Lynk Global have made it clear that they will test the ability to send a 5G signal from a satellite launching in December to standard mobile devices, after getting funding for the demonstration from an undisclosed partner.
The experimental 5G payload will be onboard its second commercial satellite, which SpaceX is slated to fly on a Falcon 9 rocket as part of its Transporter 6 rideshare mission.
Two other Lynk Global satellites are also due to fly on this mission to give the Virginia-based startup four commercial satellites in low Earth orbit.
Lynk’s initial satellites are designed to provide connectivity for its mobile network operator (MNO) partners’ customers over 2G to 4G.
The startup said “in the future” its software-defined radios “will be able to switch to 5G when our MNO partners and other customers prefer that over 4G.”
Details of the 5G tests were not disclosed.
Lynk has plans to operate more than 50 satellites before the end of 2023, which it says would enable users to send and receive text messages every 15-30 minutes.
Charles Miller, Lynk’s CEO, expects MNOs will want to upgrade from 4G to 5G satellite connectivity in 2025, when the startup would be able to provide “continuous” voice and broadband data services from orbit.
“Another issue is how prevalent the demand for 5G will be from our MNO partners,” Miller said via email.
“If we are only putting 5G beams down in a country, that means that 4G phones will not get service. Our MNO partners will need to decide when a transition takes place from 4G to 5G. This decision is up to the MNOs.”
He added: “I suspect Lynk will be ready to provide 5G services well before MNOs want to make the transition from 4G to 5G.”
Lynk’s long-term plan is to beam down 4G connectivity in one spectrum band and 5G in another, enabling MNOs to use both 4G and 5G services.
Texas-based startup AST SpaceMobile plans to start deploying its first commercial spacecraft in late 2023. These will be larger than Lynk’s pizza-boxed shaped satellites for providing voice, video streaming, and other higher bandwidth services.
AST’s BlueWalker-3 prototype satellite, which SpaceX launched Sept. 10, is slated to unfurl its 64-square-meter antenna in the next couple of weeks to test its ability to bring 4G and 5G connectivity to standard mobile phones.
SpaceX announced plans to provide its own direct-to-cell service as early as late next year in partnership with U.S.-based MNO T-Mobile.
“Lynk is years ahead of everyone else in enabling MNOs to extend their cellular networks to 100% of their geographic territories,” Dan Dooley, Lynk’s chief commercial officer of Lynk, said in a statement.
“We will be years ahead in 5G as well.”
He said Lynk is actively testing satellite-direct-to-phone-services in 12 countries on five continents.
The startup secured regulatory approval Sept. 16 to operate its initial cellphone-compatible constellation globally; however, it has not yet obtained landing rights in any country to provide services.