Tag Archive for: satellite-to-device

On May 10, AT&T submitted a regulatory request to lease wireless spectrum to AST SpaceMobile for the purpose of connecting smartphones in the United States to AST SpaceMobile’s planned satellite constellation. The agreement between the two companies includes the majority of AT&T’s low-band frequencies, which AST SpaceMobile intends to utilize to enhance AT&T’s coverage nationwide.

To enable wireless transmissions between smartphones and satellites, the companies require approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). AST SpaceMobile’s Chief Strategy Officer, Scott Wisniewski, mentioned that this authorization could be obtained through a permit for their spectrum leasing arrangement. Another possible avenue for approval is a rulemaking process proposed by the FCC called “Supplemental Coverage from Space,” which was put forward on March 17.

Both authorization approaches were discussed in a recent public hearing on this topic, with the FCC expressing encouragement for both methods. Ultimately, FCC approval will be crucial for AT&T and AST SpaceMobile to proceed with their plans to leverage satellite connectivity and address coverage gaps in the United States.

AST SpaceMobile has an additional request pending with the FCC seeking permission to transmit V-band frequencies from its proposed low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to gateways for backhaul purposes. This request is part of AST SpaceMobile’s broader plans to establish a comprehensive satellite communication network.

In collaboration with AT&T and Rakuten, a Japanese telecommunications company, AST SpaceMobile successfully conducted its first voice call on April 20 using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone and its BlueWalker 3 test satellite. The tests with BlueWalker 3 are ongoing, with the objective of demonstrating the satellite’s capability to provide communication services at speeds typically associated with 5G networks.

AST SpaceMobile intends to launch its initial five commercial satellites in the first quarter of 2024 using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. These satellites will be instrumental in the realization of AST SpaceMobile’s vision for a global satellite communication network, facilitating connectivity and communication services across various locations.

AST SpaceMobile’s Block 1 satellites, named after their development phase, are similar in size to the 1,500-kilogram BlueWalker 3 satellite. These Block 1 satellites are expected to be launched first. Following them, AST SpaceMobile plans to launch 20 larger Block 2 satellites later in 2024, which will be approximately 50% larger than those in Block 1.

AT&T has not provided specific details regarding the commercial deployment timeline for its partnership with AST SpaceMobile in the United States. However, AST SpaceMobile has indicated that the Block 2 satellites are necessary to provide coverage to the most commercially viable markets.

Lynk Global, a Virginia-based company that is also seeking authorization to offer direct-to-device commercial services in the US, has not disclosed its spectrum partner yet. SpaceX, on the other hand, announced last year that it would utilize spectrum from T-Mobile to enable direct connectivity between standard smartphones and its upgraded satellites in the low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation.

SpaceX has successfully launched what is believed to be the first 5G cellular standard satellite in low Earth orbit (LEO). The satellite, called Sateliot_0 or “The GroundBreaker,” weighs 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and will serve as an orbital data relay for a constellation of over 250 spacecraft. These satellites will communicate with terrestrial cell towers and address gaps in data networks worldwide. The GroundBreaker was launched using a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX’s facility in Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Sateliot, the Barcelona-based company responsible for The GroundBreaker and the Sateliot_X constellation network operator, believes that this technology will enable global access to the Internet of Things (IoT).

Sateliot stated that it is leading a revolutionary change where cellular terrestrial telecom and satellite connectivity are seamlessly merging for the first time in history. The company aims to address an 85% gap in mobile connectivity across the globe and has a vision to apply its technology to various public and private markets, such as road, rail, air, and sea transportation, with the potential to increase the efficiency of numerous industries. Sateliot’s goal is to expand the possibilities of connected devices by connecting the IoT to a cohesive network between ground and orbital cellular relays. By doing so, the company aims to offer a seamless switch between terrestrial and non-terrestrial 5G networks without requiring additional hardware or modems. Sateliot intends to keep the existing sim cards and mobile operators of users with standard roaming agreements, which could facilitate worldwide massive adoption of the Internet of Things.

Sateliot_0 is the first satellite in a constellation that will grow in number, with each spacecraft orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes and covering an area three times the size of Texas. The company has reported sales of over $1.3 billion as its first satellite begins operating. Sateliot has yet to announce the launch date and vehicle for its next satellite, but on the company’s website, the “Next Mission” page suggests that the public should “stay tuned” while showing an image of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy liftoff in the background.

The number of mega-constellations being planned or developed is increasing. In addition to SpaceX’s well-known Starlink broadband satellites, the European Union and China have their own constellations in progress. Amazon, an online retailer and web services giant, also intends to launch its own constellation called Project Kuiper, beginning in 2024.

According to Globalstar, Apple is providing the company with $252 million to support and cover upfront costs for replenishing its low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation.

Apple is giving the funds as a prepayment for using the network to upgrade satellite services launched last year for its latest iPhone 14 Models, which can connect with one of Globalstar’s existing 24 satellites in LEO for emergency services outside cellular coverage.

Globalstar picked MDA and Rocket Lab in February 2022 to supply an initial 17 satellites for launch by the end of 2025 in a contract worth $327 million. The contract includes an option for up to nine additional satellites at $11.4 million each.

The satellite operator intends to fund any upfront costs not covered by Apple’s prepayment with its own cash.

Apple has already agreed to reimburse Globalstar for 95% of the constellation; however, it previously required the satellite operator first to raise third-party financing to fund the manufacturing contract.

Removing the need to raise this financing amid challenging macroeconomic conditions clears a significant degree of uncertainty for Globalstar’s constellation plans. 

Last year, the operator sought to extend payment deadlines under its manufacturing contract as rising interest rates made closing the financing difficult.

Globalstar’s shares jumped more than 10% on the news.

In a regulatory filing with the Securities Exchange Commission, the company said it expects the prepayment to be recouped in installments beginning no later than the third quarter of 2025.

Globalstar is allocating 85% of the capacity on its next-generation constellation to Apple. The operator plans to continue offering legacy services including connectivity for Internet of Things (IoT) devices with the remaining 15%.

Apple has not said how it could use Globalstar’s new satellites to improve satellite-enabled features. 

The company is currently offering its satellite-enabled SOS capability on iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro for free for two years.

Time will tell us whether satellite-to-device services will emerge as a winning bet for an industry eager to establish a foothold in the lucrative wireless broadband market.

At any given moment around the world, 15 percent of the planet’s 5.2 billion mobile phone users are not connected, according to research conducted by Lynk, the first company to demonstrate a satellite-to-device satellite constellation.

What if those disconnections – from being in a remote area far from terrestrial signals or cut off from cell service following a natural disaster – were a thing of the past?

That reality is coming as satellite-to-cell service emerges as a viable service, first by startups and soon by major telco and handset players. The lifesaving and efficiency benefits of connecting satellite-to-device, especially directly to unmodified cell phones is clear – people will no longer be out of touch or require a specialized device to connect.

While satellite-to-device startups, Lynk and AST SpaceMobile, already enjoy early market advantage, with Lynk just receiving the FCC’s greenlight to offer service internationally, the market could scale faster following a wave of partnering agreements between T-Mobile and SpaceX, and Apple and Globalstar.

T-Mobile, the second-largest wireless carrier in the U.S. with 110 million customers, is working with SpaceX so that the second generation of Starlink satellites can connect directly to the carrier’s phones at no cost.

“The reality is that terrestrial cellular tech has limitations. It just can’t cover everywhere due to land use restrictions, topography, or technical limitations. This allows us to bring coverage a step farther to these remote areas,” Karri Kuoppamaki, senior vice president of Radio Network Technology & Strategy, T-Mobile, tells Via Satellite.

The company plans to begin a beta program late next year, initially offering text, picture messaging and participating messaging apps, “with a goal of enriching the service with voice and data coverage in the coming years,” Kuoppamaki stated. The carrier added that no extra equipment will be needed because the vast majority of smartphones already on T-Mobile’s network should be compatible with the new service.

Apple just announced that its emergency SOS messaging service via Globalstar’s satellite network is now available on all iPhone 14 models for customers in the United States and Canada. The company serves about 23 percent of all smartphone users worldwide, or 1.2 billion people, with Android users accounting for the remaining market of 7.26 billion. According to Apple, iPhone 14 customers can access the SOS feature free for the first two years.

Striving to make a cell phone work over satellites isn’t new, with early efforts in the 1990s led by Iridium and Globalstar and later, by TerreStar, with disappointing results.

“The service didn’t live up to expectations…you had to be out in a field. You couldn’t be under a tree or inside a building or even in a car,” recalls Tim Farrar, president of TMF Associates. He notes that Iridium’s first satellite phone users were journalists in war-torn Kosovo in early 1999, who quickly discovered that the phones didn’t work inside during rainy or wintry weather.

The stigma of Iridium’s failure in particular slowed progress of the market, say several sources, but today, the picture is much brighter, with many technical hurdles overcome, especially in the handset itself.

Tackling Spectrum and Technology Challenges

Wisniewski contends that the key to ubiquitous global coverage is flexible technology that can support multiple frequencies, given that there are very few globally aligned frequencies. “In order to tap into phones, you need to have a range of frequencies to offer,” he says.

While many market entrants depend on the spectrum from MNOs or mobile satellite service (MSS) providers to reach consumers, the field of potential partners is limited. They include LEO providers Globalstar and Iridium and Geostationary Orbit (GEO) players Inmarsat and EchoStar. OmniSpace is a new category of company, with its 5G hybrid mobile network that will rely on telecom operators’ mobile networks on the ground.

Asked if GEO players might pursue the satellite-to-device market, many industry insiders expressed doubt. Most GEO providers “are not well aligned for the satellite-to-device market,” says Wisniewski, not only because of the latency issues in GEO, but also because of the complexity and the partner ecosystem the market requires.

“No one has all the pieces and that’s why we’ve been at it for so long,” Wisniewski adds.

AST SpaceMobile has worked on its space-based cellular broadband solution since 2017, including teaming up with Nokia for the last two years on core network solutions designed to reduce latency. There is typically a 20 to 40 millisecond delay in LEO, compared to GEO satellites’ 500-millisecond delay.

“While it’s possible to do texting or emergency service over GEO, to work with the five billion cell phones that exist today, LEO is your best solution,” Wisniewski says.