A telecom operator has been launched that connects any mobile phones directly to the satellite

Texas-based AST Space Mobile in 2019 announced the successful launch of a small test communications satellite, BlueWalker 1, to test its own satellite-to-cellular architecture using the LTE standard.

The next AST prototype, dubbed BlueWalker 3, is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA, in March 2022 using a SpaceX spacecraft. The spacecraft carries antennas with a total aperture area of ​​64 square meters and is designed to provide communication with cell phones operating at standard frequencies.

Lync Project

American startup Lynk has successfully tested the operation of its first “space cellular base station”.

Lynk from Virginia (USA) launched a new communications satellite called Shannon into orbit. The delivery of the device was carried out by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 heavy rocket.

According to Lynk, the company conducted a series of tests in which ordinary mobile phones, without any hardware modifications, were able to connect and establish two-way communication with the satellite, as if it were an ordinary terrestrial cellular base station. According to Lynk, hundreds of people in the US, the UK and the Bahamas took part in the testing. The connection was carried out at the moments of the satellite’s flight over the territories of the mentioned states.

Currently, there are several ambitious projects to provide low-cost broadband Internet access via satellite communication channels, including the British Onawa and Starlin of the same SpaceX. As part of these projects, large constellations of satellites have been launched, numbering hundreds of low-orbit aircraft.

To access the services of these and other satellite Internet providers, a relatively expensive subscriber terminal is required. Lync users, as co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of the startup Charles Miller explained, will not need a terminal or special software.

Who will Lync serve?

Lynk intends to primarily serve mobile subscribers in remote areas where there is no telecommunications infrastructure of mobile operators. At first, only text messaging services will be available to customers, the company also expects to provide an SOS service that will allow tourists in a difficult situation to send a distress signal and their coordinates to rescue services. By 2025, Lynk plans to start providing high-speed Internet access services.

According to a study by Lync, the average mobile phone is in service area about 85% of the time today. About 750 million people at one time or another find themselves without access to cellular communications – it is on them that the startup plans to make money.

As of the end of September 2021, the company announced the conclusion of partnership agreements with two mobile operators – Alit (Bahamas) and Telcel Cent Rafique (Central African Republic, CAR), Lync expects to begin serving customers of these mobile companies in 2022.

The head of Lync explains this choice of partners by the high speed of decision-making, typical for the management of small mobile operators. According to Miller, the company is currently negotiating with a number of other, larger participants in the telecom market.

At the same time, the company is trying to obtain a license from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which will allow it to deploy and manage a full-fledged constellation of 5.1 thousand satellites, as well as use the radio frequency spectra of current cellular communication standards.

Technical features of the project

During the implementation of the Lync project, a number of serious technical problems had to be solved. So, according to Miller, one of the most difficult of them was to ensure that the satellite signal successfully “break through” to the target telephone set through the “noise” (radio interference) generated by other phones.

Another challenge was to compensate for the Doppler effect so that any mobile phone could “see” the satellite as a stationary cell. The Doppler effect or Doppler shift is a phenomenon named after its discoverer, Austrian mathematician and physicist Christian Doppler, which occurs when the radiation source moves relative to the receiver (or vice versa) and consists in changing the wavelength and frequency of the signal.

Existing mobile phones and equipment of mobile operators take into account this physical effect. However, in the case of a satellite, the Doppler shift is much more significant, since the satellite moves orders of magnitude faster than even the most nimble traditional mobile subscriber.

Lynk plans to deploy a constellation of satellites gradually. In 2022, the number of aircraft will be increased to 10 (they will orbit a height of 500 km), which will cover most of the earth’s surface every few hours, says Miller. By 2023, their number will reach 100 and the availability of communication will become much better – every 5-20 minutes. For continuous operation of the network, 1.5 thousand devices will be required.

“When people have the choice between not being connected at all or being connected every 15 minutes thanks to us, we are a much better alternative,” says Miller.

Main competitor

Space startup Lync Global, founded in 2017 by Charles Miller, Margo Deckard and Tighe Speedle, is not the first company to work on “space cell base station” technology.

Texas-based AST Space Mobile in 2019 announced the successful launch of a small test communications satellite, BlueWalker 1, to test its own satellite-to-cellular architecture using the LTE standard.

The next AST prototype, dubbed BlueWalker 3, is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA, in March 2022 using a SpaceX spacecraft. The spacecraft carries antennas with a total aperture area of ​​64 square meters and is designed to provide communication with cell phones operating at standard frequencies.

AST has entered into several firm agreements and letters of intent with several cellular operators, whose combined subscriber base is about 1.5 billion people.  AST has not yet been able to enter the US market due to lack of FCC approval. The issue of issuing a license is being delayed due to the concern of the American Aerospace Agency (NASA) with the large size of spacecraft, on the basis of which AST wants to form its group of communications satellites.

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