Lynk Global, a Falls Church, Virginia-based startup that aims to connect its satellites to cell phones to provide cellular service in remote areas, signed a deal with BICS, a wholesale provider of cellular voice and data services. The agreement will allow BICS to offer Lynk Global’s services to its mobile operator customers so they can expand their coverage. Coverage areas will include North America, the Caribbean, Latin America, Southeast Asia and parts of rural Africa. BICS says it has hundreds of mobile network operator customers that operate everything from 2G to 5G networks.
Lynk Global, which plans to commercially launch its services by year-end, claims to have a patented technology that can connect its satellites to cell phones and provide connectivity in remote areas that currently lack cellular coverage. Lynk Global CEO Charles Miller, told FierceWireless last year that the company’s technology is able to fool cellular devices into thinking that the satellite is a nearby cell tower and then connect. He added that Lynk Global’s technology can work with any cellular device from 2G to 5G.
Lynk is in the process of launching its satellites. In April it launched its first commercial satellite (its sixth satellite overall). According to Miller the first five satellites were "experimental" and have now been de-orbited or shut down. The sixth satellite is operational and the company plans to launch three more satellites by year-end. Those satellites have been built and are just waiting to be launched. The company can launch its service commercially with four satellites, Miller said.
If this “cell tower in the sky” concept sounds familiar, that’s because just a few weeks ago T-Mobile and SpaceX announced their intention to create a similar technology that would connect T-Mobile’s subscribers to SpaceX’s Starlink network in areas where there is no cellular coverage. The companies didn’t provide a timeline for when the service may be commercially available but said it will require SpaceX to make special antennas for its satellites and that those satellites won’t be launched until 2023.
Market is "transformational" for satellite providers
Perhaps the reason satellite-to-cellular communications is getting so much attention is that the market is expected to be significant. Northern Sky Research (NSR) recently predicted that the direct satellite-to-device market has the potential to generate $66.8 billion in 10-year cumulative revenues compared with the $38.8 billion that is estimated to be generated by wholesale non-GEO services, such as that served by SpaceX’s Starlink service.
NSR called the direct satellite-to-device-market “transformational” because satellites traditionally have required proprietary and expensive equipment. Being able to connect to conventional smartphones reduces the barrier to entry for consumers. Plus, by teaming with mobile operators and offering a wholesale service, satellite providers have the potential to reach billions of subscribers.
Update: This article was updated with additional details on Lynk's satellites.