Lynk has been putting in the work and may very well steal their lunch with a satellite-to-phone connection that already works — with any device out there. SpaceX and T-Mobile may have hogged the headlines with their flashy pre-announcement about Starlink connectivity last month, and Apple last week, but Lynk has been putting in the work and may very well steal their lunch with a satellite-to-phone connection that already works — with any device out there. They recently received FCC permission for it, which means it’s simply a question of finding a mobile network partner to bring it to market in the United States.
With its test orbital cell tower, Lynk demonstrated a direct satellite-to-phone (and back) emergency communication service late last year. Lynk would deliver intermittent (imagine every half hour or so) 2-way SMS service using standard cellular bands that happen to reach orbit, as opposed to an orbital broadband link or a legacy satellite band that requires you to aim your phone towards an invisible dot in the sky. It’s designed for emergencies, backcountry check-ins, and distributing information in areas when networks are down, such as disaster zones.
It’s not simple to send a text to or from an antenna travelling at thousands of kilometres per hour, and CEO Charles Miller admitted that it took a few years. So when huge corporations claim they’re working on it, he doesn’t take it personally.
“That’s the advantage of having created the technology five years ago: there are a lot of difficult things that no one else has done yet.” “I’m not saying they can’t; I’m just saying they haven’t yet,” he explained. “In 2017, we validated and patented it.” We did it yesterday and the day before from space – we have the world’s only operating cell tower in orbit.”
Of course, having a thousand of them would be pointless unless you had regulatory permission and mobile partners. That is the next stage for Lynk, and while they have 15 contracts in 36 countries and are ready for commercial launch, the FCC in the United States is the “gold standard” for this type of testing and certification.
This isn’t only because they have the greatest facilities; the FCC clearance process is also a de facto battleground where corporations try to interfere with one another. For example, Hughes, which runs several communications satellites, objected to Lynk’s application on a variety of grounds (which the FCC rejected), and Amazon’s Kuiper demanded that Lynk disclose operating data with everyone else (not granted). The National Radio Astronomers Organization made a relevant proposal that was partially granted, requesting different operational constraints, such as avoiding damaging radio silent zones.
There’s more to the FCC than just one step. The ruling issued today allows Lynk’s satellite services to function in general, after demonstrating that they would not interfere with other services, radio bands, and so on. When Lynk finds a partner to go to market with, different permission will be required — but the more difficult and time-consuming subject of safety and interference has already been resolved.
And how will that go-to-market component function? Lynk intends to offer commercial service everywhere in the world, and Miller stated that he intends to convert testing permits obtained in other countries into commercial licenses, a process that mobile operators must lead. It’s the same thing in the United States.
But who will collaborate with Lynk, and what will the eventual service look like? Miller has stated that regardless of the commercial product, Lynk will make its services available to everyone in an emergency — so you won’t be caught in a snowstorm just because you’re on the incorrect network. It might also be used to blanket a region with warnings or information regardless of signal, such as informing victims of a fire.
Consider it like a roaming fee: if AT&T has service but you don’t have their network, they don’t prevent you from dialling 911 or downloading Tiktok; you simply have to pay later. And when you injure your ankle 20 miles from civilization, the last thing anyone wants to think about is a 50-cent charge (or whatever it is).
Miller declined to comment on the competition since there isn’t any yet – it’s all hypothetical. T-Mobile and Starlink’s service is still a glimmer in their eyes; AST Spacemobile is preparing for its maiden launch; Skylo uses geosynchronous satellites that interact with particular devices, and Apple’s service is also confined to its latest phones and has limited messaging capabilities. Of course, you can buy specialist satellite messaging devices, but nothing surpasses the one you currently have.
There is no definite launch date for availability in the United States, and Lynk will need to launch the remainder of its 10-satellite constellation before it can give the level of service detailed to the FCC – but these days, if you have the money, you can catch a ride to space every week or two. Expect to hear more about this possibly life-saving service in the coming months, but don’t expect it to be available this ski season.