By Michael Carroll
Smartphones ready to take comms into orbit
The potential to close coverage gaps by providing satellite connectivity through standard mobile devices will struggle to move beyond the concept phase without major work around hardware, software and the OS, Bullitt Group CEO and Co-Founder Richard Wharton believes.
Wharton noted “a huge amount of work is needed behind the scenes” to equip standard smartphones with the capabilities needed to connect to satellites, chief among them being the chipsets and antennas installed.
On the software front, there is a need for a framework covering the “satellite data connection” and requirements around using cloud infrastructure for “user authentications, message routing and commercialisation”.
“And of course, there is a need for a robust satellite-connected backend network connected to one or more global satellite constellations to provide the connectivity in the first place.”
“Without all of these elements in place, this is a technology concept rather than a product,” Wharton argued.
Wharton explained the inclusion of non-terrestrial network (NTN) connectivity specifications in the 3GPP Release-17 “prompted NB-IoT chipset manufacturers and smartphone OEMs” to make the theory of satellite-to-phone connectivity a reality.
Ultimately the approach could help to close coverage gaps spanning millions of people, along with tapping a market for those who “work or engage in recreational activities that take them into the fringes of connectivity and beyond”.
“Specialised devices are available but have to date proven prohibitively expensive”, Wharton explained, noting these units are also typically cumbersome and run on specialised, pricey, tariffs.
Wharton noted there are, therefore, various opportunities for mobile and satellite service providers to generate revenue by delivering an OTT service to standard mobile devices at a “disruptive price point”.
The executive also sees potential in two-way messaging services for enterprise or governments, along with the possibility for licensing and consulting revenue.
Moving beyond messaging to two-way voice communication on standard devices is “mainly a question of bandwidth availability”, Wharton added, noting Bullitt Group and other companies will be able to adapt components accordingly, particularly when 3GPP Release-18 specifications are implemented.