“Direct-to-device” communication in the context of satellite technology is a significant and evolving topic with a potentially substantial market impact. This communication approach involves sending data, content, or services directly to user devices, such as smartphones, without the need for intermediary ground-based infrastructure or additional user equipment. Here are some key points to consider regarding direct-to-device satellite communication:

  1. Market Potential: The direct-to-device satellite communication market holds immense potential, with estimates of its value reaching up to $100 billion. This potential is driven by various factors, including the growing demand for connectivity in remote or underserved areas, disaster response and recovery efforts, IoT applications, and more.
  2. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites: The rise of LEO satellite constellations, such as SpaceX and OneWeb, is a driving force behind the concept of direct-to-device communication. LEO satellites operate at lower altitudes, reducing latency and enabling direct communication with user devices.
  3. Reduced Latency: Direct-to-device communication via LEO satellites can significantly reduce latency compared to traditional geostationary satellites. This low-latency connectivity is essential for applications like online gaming, video conferencing, and real-time IoT data transmission.
  4. Global Coverage: Direct-to-device satellite networks aim to provide global coverage, extending connectivity to remote and rural areas that lack terrestrial infrastructure. This has the potential to bridge the digital divide and bring the benefits of the internet to underserved populations.
  5. Challenges: While direct-to-device satellite communication offers numerous advantages, it also comes with challenges. These include regulatory issues, spectrum management, satellite constellation deployment, cost-effectiveness, and competition with existing terrestrial networks.
  6. Emerging Applications: Beyond traditional internet access, direct-to-device satellite communication can support a wide range of applications, including disaster management, environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, and autonomous vehicles.
  7. Economic Impact: The success of direct-to-device satellite communication could have a substantial economic impact, fostering innovation, creating job opportunities, and stimulating economic growth in various sectors.

Therefore, direct-to-device satellite communication represents a significant shift in how we think about connectivity, with the potential to reshape industries, bridge connectivity gaps, and create new opportunities for businesses and individuals. However, its success depends on addressing technical, regulatory, and economic challenges while capitalizing on the advantages it offers in terms of global coverage and low latency.

The global satellite services market is poised for growth in the coming years, with expectations of its value increasing from $107 billion in 2022 to $123 billion by 2032, according to projections by Euroconsult. Key insights from this forecast include:

  1. Data Services Surge: Data services revenues are expected to experience significant growth, nearly tripling from $19 billion in 2022 to $53 billion in 2032. This surge is indicative of the increasing demand for data connectivity, driven by applications like IoT, data analytics, and global internet access.
  2. Video Demand Shift: In contrast, Euroconsult foresees a slight dip in video demand, with revenues decreasing by about 20 percent from $88 billion in 2022 to $70 billion in 2032. This shift may be attributed to changing consumer preferences, including the rise of streaming services and on-demand content.
  3. Competition and Ecosystem Changes: Despite the overall optimism, the satellite services market is expected to face turbulence due to intense competition and a rapidly evolving ecosystem. The dynamics of the industry are shifting, with the emergence of new satellite constellations and technologies, challenging the established players.
  4. Insurance Impact: Recent anomalies in geostationary orbit, such as issues with satellites like Arcturus, Inmarsat 6 F2, and Viasat-3 Americas, are expected to impact the insurance market. These incidents have raised concerns and could lead to higher insurance costs for satellite operators.

In summary, the satellite services market is poised for growth, driven by increasing demand for data connectivity services. However, the industry faces challenges, including competition, ecosystem changes, and insurance concerns, which could impact its trajectory in the coming years. Nonetheless, satellite technology continues to play a crucial role in global connectivity and data transmission.

Lynk Global, a U.S.-based startup, is making strides in the Pacific island nation of Palau, where the Palau National Communications Corporation (PNCC), the country’s largest telecom operator, plans to become the first to use Lynk’s direct-to-device satellites commercially. This technology will provide wireless customers in Palau with connectivity outside terrestrial network coverage.

The technology is set to be deployed in Palau’s southwest region, specifically in the Sonsorol state. With Lynk’s direct-to-device satellites, PNCC customers will be able to send and receive periodic texts up to three times a day. This new service will be accessible via their existing mobile phones, replacing the current usage of radios on very high frequency (VHF) spectrum for communications in that area.

Lynk Global currently operates three small satellites in a low Earth orbit constellation. The company plans to expand this constellation to increase coverage and reduce latency, with the ultimate goal of enabling additional connectivity services, including voice calls. The move by PNCC in Palau is a significant step towards making Lynk’s satellite communication services commercially available to a broader user base.

Lynk Global has ambitious plans to expand its satellite constellation and provide satellite-enabled coverage to a wide range of locations, including the Pacific island nation of Palau. The Virginia-based venture has secured funding to launch three more satellites in the fall and has commitments for an additional six satellites to be deployed in January.

The company aims to have more than 50 satellites operational by the end of 2024, with plans for a constellation of approximately 5,000 satellites in total. For PNCC in Palau, Lynk’s deployment plan would allow them to expand satellite-enabled coverage to two more islands by the end of 2023, and eventually provide coverage to all of Palau’s 300+ islands and surrounding waters by March.

Beyond providing universal service to Palau, Lynk’s satellite network can also serve as a backup in case of natural disasters that disrupt the country’s ground network.

Lynk has signed agreements with more than 30 companies, and the startup has successfully demonstrated its technology in over 40 countries on seven continents. This progress indicates growing interest and confidence in the use of satellite-based communications solutions for expanding connectivity in remote and challenging environments.

Lynk Global is making progress in securing regulatory approvals to operate its direct-to-device satellite services in various countries, including the United States. The startup has announced plans to launch commercially in New Zealand this fall and in Canada early next year through partnerships with mobile operators. However, specific details about other countries where Lynk intends to offer its services have not been disclosed.

In the emerging direct-to-device market, Lynk’s competitors include AST SpaceMobile, a Texas-based startup that plans to launch its first five commercial satellites early next year. AST SpaceMobile recently achieved 4G LTE download speeds during tests with its prototype satellite, BlueWalker 3, in low Earth orbit. These successful tests demonstrated the capability of providing high-speed data services to mobile devices in remote areas using their satellite network.

The direct-to-device satellite industry is gaining momentum, with multiple companies striving to provide reliable and accessible connectivity services to areas beyond the reach of traditional terrestrial networks. As these companies continue to develop and deploy their satellite constellations, they are likely to play a significant role in expanding global connectivity and bridging the digital divide.

Digital twins have gained significant attention in the space industry as a promising technology for designing complex satellite networks. Although the technology is still evolving, companies specializing in this sector are witnessing an increasing demand for digital engineering tools.

Sedaro, a startup based in Arlington, Virginia, is among the companies at the forefront of developing digital engineering software specifically for space systems. Founded in 2016, Sedaro has received approximately $3 million in small business research awards from the Defense Department and NASA. The company has also attracted venture capital funding.

According to Robbie Robertson, the co-founder and CEO of Sedaro, the scale and complexity of satellite constellations make digital twins a necessity. However, he noted that in some cases, legacy digital design tools have been rebranded as digital twins, causing confusion, especially in military programs. Robertson emphasized the potential of digital twins to manage complexity in the planning and design of large satellite constellations, enabling a level of management that surpasses human capabilities.

The adoption of digital twins is gaining momentum in military satellite programs as the Department of Defense (DoD) plans for the next generation of space systems. Sedaro’s digital engineering software has found utility in the Pentagon’s requirements organization, which is responsible for overseeing major systems acquisitions. By employing a digital twin of a missile-tracking satellite network, decision-makers can fine-tune requirements before procuring the actual satellites.

Additionally, the U.S. Space Force is utilizing a digital twin to facilitate the planning of an experiment called Tetra 5, which aims to refuel satellites in orbit. In this case, the program necessitates the delivery of a digital twin alongside the physical system, showcasing the importance of incorporating digital twins in space-related initiatives.

Istari, a digital engineering startup, has gained the attention of military space programs with its innovative approach. The company is backed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and led by former Pentagon procurement official Will Roper. Roper believes that the development of military aircraft, satellites, and other systems could be accelerated and made more cost-effective by utilizing modeling and simulation for design, testing, and certification processes.

Currently, the lack of integration among various models and simulations used by different contractors in military procurement programs hinders efficiency. Istari aims to address this challenge by offering an AI platform that serves as a common operating system for models and simulations. This approach allows for seamless integration and interoperability, enabling any model to be utilized regardless of its ownership.

The Space Force stands to benefit greatly from this technology. For instance, satellite operators and engineers would be able to train on the same model, creating a true digital thread. This would enable engineers to continually update and improve their designs with real-time data from users, fostering a more efficient and collaborative design process.

Robbie Robertson emphasizes the importance of clarifying the concept of digital twins to customers who may be overwhelmed by the marketing buzzwords and varying definitions. He defines a digital twin as a high-fidelity virtual representation of a physical system that remains synchronized with its real-world counterpart throughout its entire lifecycle.

Sedaro, recognizing the skepticism surrounding digital engineering, launched an updated version of its cloud-based digital engineering tool in April. The company aims to demonstrate that digital engineering is not merely an overhyped trend but a valuable technology with practical applications.

Robertson acknowledges that many people have been disappointed with the current state of digital engineering for space systems. This disappointment stems from the lack of significant improvements in the complexity and quality of hardware technologies enabled by software tools.

In the realm of DoD satellite programs, a combination of in-house and outdated commercial software products has traditionally been used to develop digital twins. However, these legacy technologies are ill-equipped to handle the scale and complexity of future military satellite constellations, including those planned by the Space Development Agency for low Earth orbit architecture.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) is requesting digital representations of communications satellites from contractors in its latest solicitation. While the agency has not explicitly called for digital twins, Robertson notes that they are moving in that direction. The concept of digital twins can be customized to meet the specific needs and goals of each organization.

Robertson believes that the most exciting future application of digital twins for the Department of Defense (DoD) is to have digital twins of operational satellites. Traditionally, engineering simulations are seen as design tools used before the physical system is created. However, the primary use of digital twins will be in operations, where they can simulate systems at a high fidelity to optimize their utilization, identify vulnerabilities from a military perspective, and enable predictive maintenance. This aligns with the widespread use of digital twins in other industries.

OneWeb, the British operator of a low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband network, has launched a free trial offer for maritime customers. The company recently expanded its network coverage to include a larger portion of the northern hemisphere, now reaching down to 35 degrees latitude. This expansion enables coverage across Europe and the upper United States. OneWeb’s network has 634 satellites in LEO, and it is currently in the process of finalizing the necessary ground stations for global coverage, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The “try before you buy” deal for maritime customers lasts for 45 days and is facilitated through OneWeb’s network of distribution partners. The financial costs for OneWeb’s enterprise-grade maritime services, which promise speeds of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps), have not been disclosed.

In comparison, SpaceX’s Starlink LEO constellation, another provider of global connectivity, offers maritime services starting at $250 per month. Starlink advertises download speeds of up to 220 Mbps and requires a one-time hardware fee of $2,500, which includes an antenna built in-house.

Kymeta, based in the United States, and Intellian, based in South Korea, are the providers of antennas for OneWeb’s maritime services. These antennas will enable connectivity for maritime customers using OneWeb’s low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband network.

In addition to the maritime service announcement, OneWeb also revealed its plans to expand its distribution partnership with Hughes Network Systems. Hughes, an investor in OneWeb through its parent company EchoStar, will provide global inflight connectivity (IFC) services to airlines once OneWeb’s LEO services are available next year. Hughes has developed an electronically steered antenna specifically designed for the partnership, allowing aircraft to connect to both LEO and geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites.

Depending on the specific requirements of airlines, the partnership aims to offer a choice between a LEO-only solution or a hybrid service that combines both LEO and GEO connectivity.

OneWeb’s range of services extends beyond maritime and inflight connectivity. They also offer fixed and mobile land-based connectivity services for enterprises and governments.

Hughes, in addition to its involvement in providing inflight connectivity, has played a significant role in engineering OneWeb’s gateways. As a distribution partner, Hughes is responsible for distributing OneWeb’s fixed satellite services in the United States and India. Furthermore, Hughes distributes OneWeb’s connectivity solutions to the U.S. Department of Defense, catering to their specific communication needs.