FCC proposal would allow companies to directly provide satellite connectivity


Ever since Apple introduced satellite connectivity with its iPhone 14 series, the industry has experienced an unprecedented boom. This technology, which allows users to communicate through satellites when traditional cell service is not available, has the potential to be a game-changer in emergencies, particularly in remote and underserved areas. And while the industry is still in the early stages, the FCC plans to introduce new licenses that will allow companies like SpaceX, T-Mobile, AST Spacemobile, and Lynk to offer satellite connectivity directly to cell phones.

The proposal primarily focuses on satellite companies collaborating with existing cell carriers and using portions of the spectrum traditionally reserved for standards such as 5G. This approach will enable cell phones to communicate with satellites without the need for additional hardware. However, to use the spectrum, satellite operators can only utilize non-geostationary orbit satellites and will have to obtain leases from terrestrial spectrum owners in a given area.

While Apple’s iPhone 14 series are currently the only phones to support satellite connectivity, Android chip manufacturers like Qualcomm have also introduced their version of the technology, which should be available in the second half of 2023.


Testing already underway

Currently, the FCC has given experimental licenses and approvals to deploy satellites to companies such as AST Spacemobile and Lynk as they test their satellite connectivity systems. However, experts suggest the FCC needs to establish specific rules for companies due to slow development with the current approach.

Additionally, the FCC is also seeking suggestions on how systems like 911 and emergency alerts would work when someone is connected to a satellite and whether the framework can be extended to other bands, locations, and applications supported by such collaborations.

“Connecting consumers to essential wireless services where no terrestrial mobile service is available can be life-saving in remote locations and can open up innovative opportunities for consumers and businesses,” says the FCC.