Lynk Global Connects LEO Satellite to Cellphone, Touts Potential for Public Safety
Wednesday, March 18, 2020 | Comments

Satellite-to-cellphone company Lynk Global announced that it successfully connected a satellite in low Earth orbit (LEO) to an unmodified standard mobile phone on Earth. The technical breakthrough enabled Lynk to send what it called the world’s first ever text message from space to a mobile phone.

This milestone represents the critical next step for Lynk’s vision to use satellites to provide broadband services directly to more than 5 billion mobile phones on the planet, including to first responders. Lynk’s Feb. 24 test used the firm’s patented “cell tower in space” technology — LEO nanosatellites that connect directly to unmodified mobile phones. Lynk said it has successfully repeated the test many times, including with independent observers.

“In collaboration with our 27 mobile network operator partners, Lynk is actively working to deploy the first commercial product,” said Charles Miller, co-founder and CEO of Lynk and a 30-year space industry veteran who previously held senior positions at NASA. “With the permission of regulators, we are confident that we can bring a world-first solution to the market to tens of millions of people by the end of 2020.

Miller said there are three public-safety applications for the technology. The first is enabling people everywhere to get potentially life-saving alerts of impending disasters even when traditional ground-based cellular networks are down. Network backup is another application. When a hurricane knocks down a network, the service offers instant emergency backup with cellular in the sky. The service could also allow everyone to call 9-1-1 no matter where they are and without cellular network connectivity.

“We think it’s going to have a major impact on first responders,” Miller said. He cited the recent wildfires in California that knocked out cell sites and left consumers without emergency alerts or the ability to call 9-1-1.

Lynk executives are in conversations with First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) officials, although no agreement has been established. “We are interested in working with FirstNet or Verizon or T-Mobile to the extent they want to work with first responders,” he said.

The firm’s business model is to be a wholesale roaming partner, working with mobile network operators rather than managing millions of devices, Miller said. The firm’s technology conforms to Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards and is backward compatible with 3G and 2G technology. The firm’s cell towers in space are intellectual property rights (IPR) and work on GSM and Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology with plans to upgrade to 5G standards.

The test is the culmination of over a year of technology development testing involving multiple payloads in space, and the company said it verifies its radio access network (RAN) technology can compensate for the effects of placing the mobile base station in orbit, which the mobile standards were not designed for.

Lynk launched its fourth “cell tower in space” spacecraft on the SpaceX’s CRS-20 launch March 6. This spacecraft, named Lynk The World, will expand testing in mid-2020 to additional countries and partners. The company is planning global coverage but will begin as a periodic service and potentially grow with financing and then be continuous.

“We extend the existing network everywhere, and we’re a backup when the existing network goes down,” Miller said. “There has been a lot of talk in Congress about ubiquitous coverage everywhere, a technical breakthrough. That’s going to happen in the very near future.”

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