For years, Fierce Wireless has been writing occasional stories about the convergence of wireless networks with satellite. But nothing much has ever really come of it — until 2022. This year, the concept of connecting regular cell phones with low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband finally got more real.
Two companies were early in this game. Lynk Global and AST SpaceMobile were both founded in 2017.
In September this year, Lynk Global announced that it had received from the FCC the world’s first satellite-direct-to-phone license. The license enables Lynk to launch commercial services for its global constellation of satellites, which it says will pave the way for universal mobile connectivity.
According to Tony DeTora, Lynk’s VP of government affairs, the company has launched five satellites with experimental cell towers. And by the end of December, it will have launched three commercial-ready satellites.
All of the companies trying to create satellite-to-phone connectivity are also working with terrestrial mobile network operators (MNOs).
DeTora said, “We are currently working with our flagship MNO partners to integrate our systems so we can begin Lynk commercial service early next year.”
Lynk is testing on all seven continents. “This is possible due to the nature of our satellite orbit,” said DeTora. “Lynk’s satellite passes over each point on the Earth about twice per day. This naturally limits coverage for any one location, but it is highly predictable, which makes it highly useful. Three satellites will give us about six satellite passes daily, and we’ll quickly grow the constellation to provide hourly coverage, then continuous coverage.”
He said Lynk needs about 1,000 satellites for full continuous broadband coverage, which the company expects to reach in 2025. Then it will continue to add new satellites to increase coverage density until it reaches its full constellation size of about 5,000 satellites.
“Once we are fully deployed, we still plan an aggressive replacement schedule, to integrate the latest technology and ensure that we maintain a sustainable presence in LEO by de-orbiting older satellites,” said DeTora.