Tag Archive for: Direct-to-Smartphone

A 5G phone call to an ordinary smartphone in a cellular dead zone was demonstrated by AST SpaceMobile which has achieved a significant milestone with its Blue Walker 3 test satellite. Here are the key points regarding this development:

  1. Successful 5G Phone Call: AST SpaceMobile’s Blue Walker 3 test satellite, which has been in orbit for a year, successfully relayed a 5G phone call to a Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone in a cellular dead zone near Hana, Hawaii. The call connected an engineer in Hawaii with another engineer in Spain for nearly two minutes.
  2. Improved Download Speeds: In addition to the 5G phone call, AST SpaceMobile reported improved download speeds compared to previous tests. Download rates reached around 14 megabits per second, surpassing the 10 Mbps speeds recorded over 4G in June. This indicates progress in enhancing satellite-based connectivity.
  3. Launch Plans: AST SpaceMobile plans to launch its first five commercial satellites, known as Block 1 BlueBird, to low Earth orbit (LEO) early next year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. These satellites are expected to provide intermittent connectivity for initial device-monitoring services.
  4. Global 5G Service: The company is seeking funds to develop more powerful BlueBird satellites that would enable a global 5G service, extending connectivity beyond terrestrial cell towers. To achieve global coverage, AST SpaceMobile envisions deploying around 90 BlueBird satellites.
  5. Spectrum and Regulation: The 5G tests conducted by AST SpaceMobile used wireless spectrum from AT&T, and the company is in the process of seeking permission to lease terrestrial frequencies from AT&T on a commercial basis in the United States. The company, like other direct-to-device players, is also awaiting a regulatory framework from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to govern the emerging industry.

AST SpaceMobile‘s successful 5G phone call via satellite represents a significant step toward enabling global 5G connectivity, particularly in areas with limited terrestrial infrastructure. The company’s plans for launching additional satellites and regulatory developments will play a crucial role in realizing this vision of ubiquitous connectivity.

The direct-to-device market, which involves satellite-based communication services delivered directly to consumer devices, is seeing divergent opinions on its growth potential. Here are key points regarding this market and the differing views presented:

  1. Market Overview: The direct-to-device market involves providing satellite-based communication services directly to consumer devices, such as smartphones, without the need for specialized equipment like satellite phones. Companies like Lynk Global, AST SpaceMobile, Globalstar, and Iridium Communications are active players in this space.
  2. Lynk’s Optimistic Outlook: Charles Miller, the CEO of Lynk Global, suggested that the direct-to-device market could achieve annual revenues of $1 billion in less than five years. Lynk currently operates with a small constellation of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) spacecraft and focuses on services like text messaging and emergency alerts.
  3. Iridium’s Conservative View: Suzi McBride, the Chief Operating Officer of Iridium Communications, took a more cautious stance, estimating that it would “take a good 10 years” for the market to reach the $1 billion annual revenue milestone. Iridium has a long history of providing satellite communications to specialized handsets.
  4. Diverse Approaches: Various satellite operators are taking different approaches to tap into the direct-to-device market. Some are leveraging their existing infrastructure and spectrum, while others are planning large-scale satellite constellations designed specifically for this purpose.
  5. Market Dynamics: The growth of the direct-to-device market depends on several factors, including the development of user-friendly devices, regulatory frameworks, consumer adoption, and competition from terrestrial networks, especially in densely populated areas.

In summary, the direct-to-device satellite communication market is characterized by diverse strategies and differing views on its growth trajectory. While some are optimistic about rapid expansion, others take a more cautious and longer-term perspective. The market’s evolution will likely be influenced by a range of factors, including technological advancements, regulatory decisions, and competitive dynamics.

Viasat is seeking to create hybrid narrowband direct-to-smartphone services using satellites in geostationary and non-geostationary orbits according to its CEO, Mark Dankberg, who spoke at the SmallSat Symposium in California on Feb. 8.

Viasat is open to partnering with low Earth orbit companies, including rival SpaceX. The acquisition of Inmarsat is still awaiting regulatory approval, and Viasat is focusing on improving payload integration to save space by looking at standardized cubesat-type form factors to allow new entrants into these systems.

Advances in technology are making it easier to communicate from orbit without large antennas or specialized phones, and direct-to-smartphone capabilities are becoming increasingly compelling. However, Viasat is aware of the potential negative impact of having any cell phone or smartwatch in the world connect directly to a space system, which is not consistent with the self-interest of many nations.

As direct-to-smartphone efforts pick up, it is likely to have knock-on effects across the rest of the space industry, including putting more mass into orbit, increasing the threat of collisions that could threaten the viability of space operations for all operators.

Dankberg told the SmallSat Symposium that while Viasat made its multi-billion dollar offer for Inmarsat because of its international broadband presence, its direct-to-smartphone narrowband capabilities are increasingly compelling.

He said “one of the biggest potential markets is direct-to-device,” which is “going to have a big influence, both positive and negative when it comes to … the self-interest of nations.”

Advances in technology and telecom protocol standardization are making it easier to communicate to and from orbit without large antennas or specialized phones. 

“It’s possible to control that,” Dankberg said, “but when any cell phone in the world, or smartwatch … within your borders can connect to a space system directly, that is not consistent with the self-interest of quite a few nations in the world.”

Small LEO satellites have been getting larger to improve their capabilities as launch economics improve, Dankberg noted.

He pointed to how SpaceX’s Starlink broadband satellites have increased from about 250 kilograms to the 2,000-kilogram range to add new capabilities, such as direct-to-smartphone services, into its second-generation broadband constellation.

Viasat believes “you do not need very large satellites to accomplish missions in space,” Dankberg said, and is focusing on improving payload integration to save space.

“We’re looking at standardized cubesat-type form factors that we think we can buy that will create a vibrant ecosystem,” he added, “to allow many new entrants into these into these systems.”

Viasat is still waiting on regulatory approvals from the United Kingdom and European to buy Inmarsat after announcing the deal in November 2021.

The statuary deadline for the U.K.’s competition watchdog to decide on the deal is March 30, Raymond James analyst Ric Prentiss said in a recent investor note, and “then the last remaining hurdle would be the European Commission which could potentially elongate the timeline.”

Viasat, which recently completed the $2 billion sale of its tactical data communications business, reported $651 million in revenue from continuing operations in the three months to the end of December, up 4% year-on-year.

Adjusted EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, declined 15% to $139 million. 

The operator also disclosed an extra few weeks of delays for its debut next-generation ViaSat-3 satellite, designed to add significant amounts of capacity over the Americas, which is now slated for a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch in the week of April 8.

The second ViaSat-3, covering Europe, Middle East, and Africa, is counting down to a September launch on one of United Launch Alliance’s last Atlas launches.