Thursday, April 16, 2020

Satellite service for every cellphone?

Strategy Page reports on an interesting new technology soon to be available for standard cellphones.

In a major technological breakthrough an American firm, Lynk Global, conducted several demonstrations in February, before numerous industry experts, in which one of the three new Lynk LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites successfully enabled an ordinary cellphone in the U.S. to send text messages via that satellite 500 kilometers away to other another cellphone in the Falkland Islands (in the South Atlantic).

Standard earth-based cell towers have a maximum range of 35 kilometers and there are not enough cell towers to cover the entire planet. Lynk eliminates the problems an estimated 750 million cellphone users have each day in not being able to get a signal. Lynk can also provide cellphone service to over a billion people who live in areas without access to cell phone networks. Lynk is literally a cell tower in space that sends 2G signals to any cellphone below.

Initially, Lynk will provide a global texting service. As the satellite technology is improved voice calls will be available as well. Lynk does not make ground-based cell towers obsolete because these local cell towers can provide high-speed service needed to access most of what is on the Internet. Other firms have developed satellite-based Internet service but these require special, but small and inexpensive, equipment to access them. Lynk will work with any of the existing five billion cellphones. Lynk also takes advantage of the fact that most cellphone users prefer to use texting rather than voice calls. Access to the Lynk network will be sold separately although 30 existing cellphone service providers have already agreed to offer Lynk service as an optional feature of their networks. For two billion people in remote areas Lynk will provide a reliable and affordable to existing cellphone service.

For the military and emergency service organizations Lynk will be a lifesaver. In the aftermath of major storms, earthquakes and such a major problem people in the disaster zone and emergency responders have it reliable communications. Cell phone towers are put out of action, sometimes for months. Yet in the first days of such disasters communications are vital and a matter of life or death. Lynk expects to begin offering texting service by the end of 2020 as it puts more satellites into orbit. For Lynk, this service is seen as a $300 billion a year market for them and a boost to sales of cell phones to many people who never bothered to get one because they lived in an area without any service and not much expectation of such service being installed. While many of these remote areas are populated by people without a lot of income the fact that Lynk will work with any cellphone, including the many budget phones (under $100) or even cheaper (under $20) second-hand phones, they will be able to afford Lynk.

Lynk will also provide a missing capability that the military has been seeking. Troops often operate in areas where there is little or no cell phone service and for the last twenty years, the U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies have been working to equip commercial cellphones with encryption and other features that make cellphones usable in a combat zone.

There's more at the link.

This will be great news for areas affected by natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.  Local cellphone towers typically go out of service for days or even weeks following such episodes, until repair crews can get to them and/or power can be restored.  If those in such areas have access to text messaging via satellite, to let their loved ones know they're OK or to send a message asking for help to emergency services, that'll be a real game-changer.  I wish we'd had it available during Hurricane Katrina, back in 2005.

As Instapundit often says:  "Faster, please!"



David said...

I'm not a tech expert, but by not relying on local cell towers, I would assume that messages sent by this service would not be trackable like messages and calls sent via standard cell service. If I'm right about this, satellite cell service would throw sand in the gears of the surveillance state, and therefore will not be made available to the general public.

McChuck said...

Except that 2G systems are being demobilized, and new phones won't offer 2G signalling.

Andrew Smith said...

All 2G phone service in Australia has been decommissioned since 2018, but that's not to say that the subsequent generations of the mobile communications protocols don't continue to use the 2G signalling method for text messages. Hard to know without delving into the tech, but 4G gear for example must have the ability to fallback to 3G as required.

Bob Gibson said...

uh, the Falklands are a bit more than 500 km away from the U.S. . Oh, wait,is it the *satellite* that's 500 km away from the Earth?

Sam L. said...

I have a flip-phone. Will it be useable on this?

John T. Block said...

Great. A billion illiterates mashing buttons, to wrong adresses...I sense an increase in alcohol consumption, over and above the viral induced.