Lynk Global Terminates Ground Station for Direct-to-Smartphone Services

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 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.

The Ka-band ground station is required to route cellular signals Lynk’s satellites capture from low Earth orbit (LEO) back to a mobile operator partner’s terrestrial network.

It is the first of dozens of ground stations the company plans to deploy around the world to reduce waiting times and improve network resilience, which will enable telcos to keep customers connected outside mobile coverage.

“We’re in the middle of construction, and we think we’ll build it in February and test it out,” Lynk CEO Charles Miller said in an interview, “and it’ll be in line with our commercial service.”

Lynk currently has three of its commercial pizza box satellites in orbit and has Federal Communications Commission approval to operate 10 of them in LEO.

But while Lynk has test licenses in more than 20 countries, the company requires a mobile carrier partner to request and secure landing rights from their local regulator before commercial services can begin.

And while Lynk has demonstrated satellite connections with cellular carriers for sending and receiving data, Miller said they still need to test services across the various interconnections built into nationwide telecom infrastructure.

Demonstrations to date have also been limited to the S-band antennas on Lynk’s satellites while the Ka-band ground station is under construction.

High-frequency Ka-band spectrum enables faster connections than S-band, Miller said, “but technically it’s the same technology, except it’s a different feeder link.”

Setting aside the potential for technical problems with Lynk’s new ground station and interconnection demonstrations, he said the venture is on track to begin providing text messaging, emergency alerts and other basic connectivity services commercially from April.

According to Miller, landing rights for mobile carrier partners is the easy part.

“We’re confident they’ll get it,” he said, “we’ve rolled up all this test data that proves we do [this] without causing harmful interference in a country – so it’s just what’s next.”

Expansion of financing

Virginia-based Lynk hopes to deploy three more satellites in late spring around the time of its planned commercial debut.

Depending on their latitude, Miller said six satellites would be enough for users to send and receive text messages about nine times a day.

About 300 satellites would enable a continuous service near the Canadian border—necessary to support voice calls, although this would eat into the network’s capacity for other services—while about 1,000 would be needed for a continuous connection near the equator.

SpaceX launched Lynx’s last two satellites on Jan. 3 with a deployment mechanism the startup developed that it says could deploy six at a time.

Miller said the company is seeking funding to order SpaceX again for its next batch of three satellites.

“If someone came in quickly and wanted to invest to fund the next three satellites to go from three to six, we’re open to that,” he said, adding that the company is talking “to a few investors” about this.

In parallel, Lynk is “deep in negotiations” with “four major investors” about a much larger financing round.

“Three of these are strategic partners,” Miller said.

Lynk isn’t the only company seeking a slice of an emerging market thrust into the spotlight last year with the launch of Apple’s satellite-enabled iPhone 14.

Some, like Lynk, plan to plug into unmodified smartphones already in circulation, while others are developing chipsets for new handset models.

Satellite operator Iridium unveiled its long-awaited contribution entered the market on 5 January in collaboration with the chip manufacturer Qualcomm. They expect Android smartphones capable of connecting to Iridium’s constellation to be released in the second half of this year.

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