Viasat said March 2 it is partnering with Ligado Networks to break into the emerging market for providing satellite services directly to consumer smartphones and other devices.
Viasat is primarily known for using satellites to provide broadband services in the Ka-band spectrum. However, since 2014, the company has also utilized the L-band from Ligado Networks’ SkyTerra-1 geostationary satellite to offer lower-bandwidth mobile satellite services in North America.
These services include providing connectivity for monitoring and tracking IoT devices and other machines that require external antennas. Viasat has partnered with Skylo, a San Francisco-based venture, to expand these services across various markets, such as consumer smartphones, automotive, and defense.
The two companies plan to integrate their technology and conduct testing over the air to ensure that the end-to-end solution is optimized and commercially ready. These services will initially be limited to low-bandwidth applications, such as simple two-way messaging, similar to the SOS feature launched by Apple for its latest iPhone and the capabilities other operators plan to launch in 2023.
“The partners aim to bring smartphone messaging, wearable connectivity, and IoT services enabling cellular devices to connect seamlessly via satellite rapidly to some of the world’s most attractive markets,” Viasat, Ligado Networks, and Skylo said in a joint news release.
“Longer term, we believe space-based networks can help scale these applications by substantially increasing network data rates and capacity; increasing service convenience and availability; and reducing costs,” Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg said in an accompanying statement.
The companies involved did not disclose any further details about the non-binding Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) that they signed with each other. It appears that the agreements do not cover the MSAT-2 satellite, which Ligado operates primarily as a backup for SkyTerra-1. Ligado also has another satellite called SkyTerra-2, a replica of SkyTerra-1, which is already constructed but remains in storage for future commercial services.
Viasat is considering offering direct-to-smartphone services using satellites in geostationary and non-geostationary orbits. The partnership with Ligado and Skylo is expected to accelerate Viasat’s entry into the direct-to-device market as it seeks to expand its satellite connectivity services globally with its upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation and plans to acquire Inmarsat of the United Kingdom. Viasat is currently working to obtain regulatory approval for the acquisition of Inmarsat, which operates a global constellation of geostationary L-band satellites and is also considering plans for low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Recently, British handset maker Bullitt announced the release of Android smartphones that can connect to L-band satellites operated by Inmarsat and other geostationary operators, in partnership with Skylo and Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek.
Inmarsat also leases L-band spectrum to Ligado. Inmarsat launched legal action against Ligado Dec. 15 over missed payments under this contract; however, it withdrew the lawsuit just weeks later for reasons it did not disclose.
Ligado’s payment issues came after plans to put its L-band spectrum into use terrestrially for a 5G network in the United States were put on hold following concerns it could disrupt GPS systems.
Ligado announced Feb. 23 it is pooling its satellite spectrum with Omnispace, a startup developing plans for a global non-geostationary connectivity constellation using S-band spectrum, to target direct-to-smartphone opportunities specifically.