The satellite

The satellite industry studies the size of the direct-to-device market

The emerging market for satellite connectivity directly to devices, such as smartphones, has generated varying opinions on its growth potential:

  1. AST SpaceMobile’s Perspective: AST SpaceMobile, a company developing a satellite constellation for direct-to-device services, expressed optimism about the market’s rapid growth. The interest is being driven by consumers’ strong desire to remain connected. According to Scott Wisniewski, the executive vice president and chief strategy officer of AST SpaceMobile, customers are likely willing to pay for such connectivity, which might not require a substantial cost.
  2. Lynk Global’s Estimate: Lynk Global, another player in the market, expects the direct-to-device market to grow swiftly. Charles Miller, the CEO of Lynk Global, estimated that it would take less than five years for the market to reach $1 billion in annual revenues.

These estimates highlight a general sentiment that there is a growing demand for satellite connectivity directly to devices. The exact rate of growth and the time it takes to reach specific revenue milestones, however, remains a topic of debate within the industry.

There is a range of opinions regarding the timeline for the direct-to-device satellite market’s growth:

  1. Optimistic Outlook: AST SpaceMobile and Lynk Global are optimistic about the rapid growth of this market. They emphasize the critical differentiator is speed and expect it to become a significant opportunity more quickly.
  2. Cautious Approach: Iridium’s COO, Suzi McBride, offers a more cautious perspective based on Iridium’s experience of offering satellite phone service for over two decades. She believes that it will take a decade for the market to develop due to the time required for deploying the necessary infrastructure and ensuring proper service adoption.
  3. Middle Ground: Jassem Nasser, Chief Business Development Officer at Thuraya, anticipates the market could take 7-10 years to reach $1 billion in annual revenue. He suggests that the biggest opportunity lies in broadband data rather than voice or messaging services, which will require advanced technologies and significant capital investments.

This debate reflects the industry’s uncertainty about the exact pace of growth for direct-to-device satellite services. Some participants advocate rapid development, while others emphasize a more cautious, long-term approach to ensure success.

Regarding terminology, the industry is still grappling with what to call this market. While it is often referred to as “direct-to-device,” engineers commonly use the term “non-terrestrial networks (NTN).” The industry might need to establish a consensus on the appropriate nomenclature to describe this emerging sector.

The panel also touched on the issue of terminology for the direct-to-device satellite market:

  • Charles Miller, CEO of Lynk Global, believes that industry buzzwords like “direct-to-device” and “non-terrestrial networks” are too technical and don’t effectively communicate the capabilities of the technology to the public. He proposed the term “sat-to-phone” as a more descriptive alternative, emphasizing that the industry needs to speak the language of its customers, the billions of people with phones.
  • Suzi McBride, COO of Iridium, expressed a more consumer-focused view, stating that consumers care more about connectivity than the specific name of the technology.

This debate highlights the need for clear and consumer-friendly terminology to describe these emerging satellite services. While some advocate for more descriptive terminology like “sat-to-phone,” others believe that the technical jargon matters less to consumers than the practical benefits of connectivity.