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During the earlier part of the 1990s, global mobile personal communications by satellite (GMPCS) promised a revolution in information and communications applications. Hundreds of communications satellites were to be deployed on the geo-stationary orbit and beyond, forming a seamless web of communication capabilities. Packing a GMPCS console in his suitcase, the globetrotting businessman was supposed to be able to stay connected to the company headquarters anywhere and anytime on the surface of the earth. The revolution did not quite materialise. GMPCS operators such as Iridium and Globalstar had barely commenced their commercial services before filing for bankruptcy. The present paper analyses the technical and commercial reasons behind the GMPCS failure, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of such a global communications systems. In particular, lessons from the brief applications of GMPCS in emergency telecommunications - telecommunication provision for disaster mitigation and humanitarian relief operations - are discussed. The paper also points out the future opportunities and threats of GMPCS, especially in view of the fact that several of the GMPCS operators have undergone corporate rescue.