The days of “no signal” may be behind us with the advent of Lynk’s satellite network that lets any modern phone exchange data directly with a satellite overhead, no special antenna or chip required.
The company just demonstrated a two-way data link this week and announced its first network partners in Africa and the Bahamas — if everything goes well it may not be long before you can get a signal anywhere in the world.
Early tests demonstrated they could counteract the noise, doppler shift, and other factors that prompted some experts to call the task impossible, and in 2020 they sent the first ordinary SMS directly from a satellite to a normal phone.
That in itself would have been a remarkable and useful capability to provide to governments and network providers. In emergencies, such as after natural disasters or during blackouts, ordinary mobile networks can’t be relied on to get important messages to affected regions. Lynk showed that a satellite could hit an entire city with an evacuation or shelter-in-place message, and indeed that may be one way the tech is used in the future.
But it wasn’t until last week that the company demonstrated a two-way connection between a phone and a satellite (their fifth, “Shannon”), allowing someone on the surface with no special equipment to, if there’s a Lynk satellite overhead, both receive and send data. Not a lot of data, of course — but more than enough for an SMS, a GPS location, a weather report, or the like. (Higher data rates will come later as more of the constellation goes up.)
“We have repeatedly demonstrated the two-way call flow required for a phone to connect to our cell tower in space,”Charles Miller
“This two-way call flow involves multiple instances of uplink and downlink signaling, including a device request for channel access, and then the corresponding authentication and location update procedures. To date, we’ve done this with hundreds of phones, and counting, in the UK, the Bahamas, and the US. This has never been proven before with a satellite cell tower and Lynk has done it.”Charles Miller
“The ability to send a text message, anytime and anywhere is the foundation of all safety. If you can send a message to a friend, family member, or neighbor, that can be life saving,You might not even want it, but your wife or husband wants it so they don’t have to worry. People are buying peace of mind.”Charles Miller
The company is in talks with dozens of network operators around the world, but regulatory and market questions remain in many places, such as the U.S., where the FCC will need to weigh in. But Miller feels certain they’re on their way to becoming a major part of the global communications infrastructure.
“The smartphone in your pocket is like a superpower, it magnifies your abilities as a human being,” Miller said. “But your superpower is broken when you’re not connected. We solve that problem.”