Lynk Global is close to completing a ground station in Hawaii as part of plans to connect its growing constellation of small satellites to standard smartphones this spring.
TAMPA, Fla. — Lynk Global is nearing completion of a ground station in Hawaii as part of plans to connect its growing constellation of small satellites to standard smartphones this spring.
The Ka-band ground station is needed to route cellular signals that Lynk’s satellites pick up from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) back to a mobile operator partner’s ground network.
It is the first of dozens of ground stations the company plans to deploy around the world to reduce latency and improve the resiliency of its network, which would allow telcos to keep customers connected outside of cellular coverage.
“We’re in the middle of building it and we think we’ll build it in February and test it,” Lynk CEO Charles Miller said in an interview, “and that will be in line to support our commercial service. ”
Lynk currently has three of its commercial pizza box satellites in orbit and has permission from the Federal Communications Commission to operate 10 of them in LEO.
However, while Lynk has trial licenses in more than 20 countries, the company requires a mobile operator partner to apply and secure landing rights from their local regulator before commercial services can begin.
And while Lynk has demonstrated satellite links with mobile operators to send and receive data, Miller said he still needs to test the services over the various interconnections built into the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure.
Demonstrations to date have also been limited to S-band antennas on Lynk’s satellites while its Ka-band ground station is under construction.
The higher-frequency Ka-band spectrum allows for faster connections than S-band, Miller said, “but technically it’s the same technology, except it’s a different feeder link.”
Leaving aside the possibility of technical hiccups with Lynk’s new ground station and interconnection demos, he said the company is on track to begin commercially facilitating text messages, emergency alerts and other basic connectivity services starting in April. .
According to Miller, landing rights for mobile operator partners is the easy part.
“We’re confident they’ll get it,” he said, “we’ve been accumulating all this test data that shows we’re doing it. [this] without causing harmful interference in a country, so it’s next in line.”
Virginia-based Lynk expects to deploy three more satellites in late spring, around the time of their planned commercial debut.
Based on its latitude, Miller said six satellites would be enough for users to send and receive text messages about nine times a day.
Around 300 satellites would allow continuous service near the Canadian border, necessary to support voice calls, although this would consume network capacity for other services, while around 1000 would be required for continuous connection near the equator.
SpaceX launched the last two Lynk satellites on January 3 with a deployment mechanism developed by the startup that it says could deploy six at a time.
Miller said the company is seeking funding to book SpaceX again for its next batch of three satellites.
“If someone came in quickly and wanted to invest to finance the next three satellites to go from three to six, we are open to that,” he said, adding that the company is talking “with some investors” about this.
In parallel, Lynk is “deeply in talks” with “four major investors” over a much larger funding round.
“Three of these are strategic partners,” Miller said.
Lynk isn’t the only company seeking a piece of an emerging market that came into the spotlight last year with the launch of Apple’s satellite-enabled iPhone 14.
Some, like Lynk, plan to plug in unmodified smartphones already in circulation, while others are developing chipsets for new phone models.
Iridium satellite operator unveiled his long-awaited entry to market on January 5 in partnership with chipmaker Qualcomm. They expect Android smartphones capable of connecting to the Iridium constellation to be released in the second half of this year.