Amazon has finally joined the race to build massive constellations of satellites that can blanket the globe in internet connectivity — a move that puts the tech company in direct competition with SpaceX and its Starlink satellite Internet system. The first two prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper space network, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:06 p.m. ET Friday. The Protoflight launch is the first mission in a broader commercial partnership between ULA and Amazon to launch the majority of the Project Kuiper constellation.
“This is Amazon’s first time putting satellites into space, and we’re going to learn an incredible amount regardless of how the mission unfolds,” Rajeev Badyal, a vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon, said in a statement from the company before the launch. “We’ve done extensive testing here in our lab and have a high degree of confidence in our satellite design, but there’s no substitute for on-orbit testing,” he added.
“This initial launch is the first step in support of deployment of Amazon’s initiative to provide fast, affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “We have worked diligently in partnership with the Project Kuiper team to launch this important mission that will help connect the world. We look forward to continuing and building on the partnership for future missions.”
United Launch Alliance cut off the livestream of the launch after the first stage of its rocket — the portion that provides the initial boost at liftoff — finished firing its engines off. The company did confirm “mission success,” and said in a news release that it “precisely” delivered the satellites. Amazon could not immediately confirm contact with the satellites.
A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the Protoflight mission for Amazon’s Project Kuiper lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:06 p.m. EDT on October 6.
Photo by United Launch Alliance
If successful, the mission could queue up Amazon to begin adding hundreds more of the satellites into orbit, eventually building a network of more than 3,200 satellites that will work in tandem to beam internet connectivity to the ground.
But why wasn’t a Blue Origin (owned by Jeff Bezos) rocket used to launch the Project Kuiper satellites? It’s because Blue Origin has yet to launch anything into orbit. Although its suborbital space tourist rocket New Shepard has made many flights, the New Glenn rocket that it has been developing for more than a decade to take payloads like Kuiper satellites to orbit is at least three years behind schedule. Its debut flight is penciled in for next year. In April last year, Amazon announced a gigantic purchase of up to 83 launches, the largest commercial purchase of rocket launches ever. That includes 27 from Blue Origin and the rest from two other companies, Arianespace of France and United Launch Alliance of the United States. The contracts with the other companies also rely on new rockets that have not yet flown: the Ariane 6 from Arianespace and the Vulcan from United Launch Alliance.
The leading satellite Internet company is Starlink, the SpaceX subsidiary that has been growing rapidly since 2019. SpaceX has more than 4,500 active Starlink satellites in orbit and offers commercial and residential service to most of the Americas, Europe and Australia.
The space industry is in the midst of a revolution. Until relatively recently, most space-based telecommunications services were provided by large, expensive satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which lies thousands of miles away from Earth. The drawback with this space-based internet strategy was that the extreme distance of the satellites created frustrating lag times. Now, companies including SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon are looking to bring things closer to home.
Even before those companies began to build their services, the satellite industry dreamed of delivering high-speed, space-based internet directly to consumers. There were several such efforts in the 1990s that either ended in bankruptcy or forced corporate owners to shift plans when expenses outweighed the payoffs.
Such widespread high-speed internet access could be revolutionary. As of 2021, nearly 3 billion people across the globe still lacked basic internet access, according to statistics from the United Nations. That’s because more common forms of internet service, such as underground fiber optic cables, had not yet reached certain areas of the world.
SpaceX is well ahead of the competition in terms of growing its service, and its efforts so far have occasionally thrust the company into geopolitical controversy. The company notably faced significant blowback in late 2022 and early 2023 for preventing Ukrainian troops on the front lines of the war with Russia from accessing Starlink services, which had been crucial to Ukraine’s military operations. (The company later reversed course, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk discussed the Ukraine controversy in a recent book.) It’s possible Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation could become part of that conversation — facing similar geopolitical pressures — if the network proves successful.
“I’m also curious if Amazon plans dual-use capabilities where government/defense will be a major client. This may result in the targeting of Kuiper like that of Starlink in Ukraine,” said Gregory Falco, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, in a statement.
Despite the promises of a global internet access revolution, the massive satellite megaconstellations needed to beam internet across the globe are controversial. Already, there are thousands of pieces of space junk in low-Earth orbit. And the more objects there are in space, the more likely it is that disastrous collisions could occur, further exacerbating the issue.
The Federal Communications Commission, which authorizes space-based telecom services, recently began enhancing its space debris mitigation policies. The satellite industry has largely pledged to abide by recommended best practices, including pledging to deorbit satellites as missions conclude.
In a May blog post, Amazon previously laid out its plans for sustainability, which include ensuring its satellites are capable of maneuvering while in orbit. Amazon also pledged to safely deorbit the first two test satellites at the end of their mission.
Separately, astronomers have also continuously raised concerns about the impact all these satellites in low-Earth orbit have on the night sky, warning that these manmade objects can intrude upon and distort telescope observations and complicate ongoing research.
Amazon addressed those concerns in a statement to CNN, saying one of the two prototype satellites it launched Friday will test antireflective technology aiming to mitigate telescope interference. The company has also been consulting with astronomers from organizations such as the National Science Foundation, according to Amazon spokesperson Brecke Boyd. However, SpaceX has made similar commitments.
It remains to be seen how well Project Kuiper will compete with SpaceX’s Starlink. And while Starlink already has more than 1 million customers, documents recently obtained by the Wall Street Journal showed that the SpaceX megaconstellation hasn’t been as successful as once projected.
As far as consumer price points go: People can purchase a Starlink user terminal for a home for about $600 plus the cost of monthly service.
Amazon has said it hopes to produce Project Kuiper terminals for as low as about $400 per device, though the company has not yet begun demonstrating or selling the terminals. The company has not revealed a price for monthly Kuiper services.
SpaceX has had the clear advantage of using its own Falcon 9 rockets to launch batches of Starlink satellites to orbit.
Amazon does not have its own rockets. And while the Jeff Bezos-founded rocket company Blue Origin is working on a rocket capable of reaching orbit, the project is years behind schedule.
For now, Kuiper satellites are launching on rockets built by United Launch Alliance, a close partner of Blue Origin. In addition to ULA and Blue Origin, Amazon has a Project Kuiper launch contract with European launch provider Arianespace.
On August 28, The Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, which owns a stake in Amazon, filed a lawsuit against the company over the launch contracts. The lawsuit alleges Amazon executives “consciously and intentionally breached their most basic fiduciary responsibilities” in part by forgoing the option of launching Project Kuiper satellites on rockets built by SpaceX, which the suit claims is “one of the most cost-effective launch providers.”
“The claims in this lawsuit are completely without merit, and we look forward to showing that through the legal process,” said an Amazon spokesperson.
If all goes to plan, Amazon said it intends to launch its first production satellites early next year and begin offering beta testing to initial customers by the end of 2024, according to a news release.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a new regulatory framework meant to support collaboration between satellite and wireless terrestrial network operators. In a statement last week, the FCC noted it’s aiming to leverage the growth in space-based services to connect smartphone users in remote, unserved, and underserved areas. The FCC hopes to establish a more transparent process to support supplemental coverage from space.
Numerous such collaborations have launched recently, and the FCC seeks to establish clear and transparent processes to support supplemental coverage from space. 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.
“We will not be successful in our effort to make … always-on connectivity available to everyone, everywhere if we limit ourselves to using only one technology. We are going to need it all—fiber networks, licensed terrestrial wireless systems, next-generation unlicensed technology, and satellite broadband,” said FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, calling this type of seamless migration among networks the “Single Network Future.” She referenced the availability of emergency SMS service on smartphones via satellite and added, “We are starting to see direct satellite-to-smartphone communication move from sci-fi fantasy to real-world prospect. … For this innovation to have a chance to deliver at scale—and for us to move toward a full Single Network Future with more providers, in more spectrum bands, and a global footprint—regulators will need to develop frameworks that support its development.”
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking’s suggested framework plans to see satellite operators collaborating with terrestrial service providers while being able to obtain FCC authorization to operate space stations on certain currently licensed, flexible-use spectrums allocated to terrestrial services. According to the FCC, it’s also looking to add a mobile-satellite service allocation on some terrestrial flexible-use bands.
“The FCC proposes allowing authorized non-geostationary orbit satellite operators to apply to access terrestrial spectrum if certain prerequisites are met, including a lease from the terrestrial licensee within a specified geographic area. A satellite operator could then serve a wireless provider’s customers should they need connectivity in remote areas, for example in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, Lake Michigan, the 100-Mile Wilderness, or the Uinta Mountains,” said the FCC in its statement.
The FCC will also seek comment on how this framework might best support access to emergency response systems like 911 and Wireless Emergency Alerts when a consumer is connected via supplemental coverage from space. The new proceeding will also seek to build a record on whether the framework can be extended to other bands, locations, and applications that might be supported by such collaborations.
“By providing clear rules, I believe we can kick start more innovation in the space economy while also expanding wireless coverage in remote, unserved, and underserved areas. We can make mobile dead zones a thing of the past. But even better, we have an opportunity to bring our spectrum policies into the future and move past the binary choices between mobile spectrum on the one hand or satellite spectrum on the other. That means we can reshape the airwave access debates of old and develop new ways to get more out of our spectrum resources,” Rosenworcel said.
Satellite to smartphone connectivity is expected to be crucial for emergency response systems, with the FCC noting that it is seeking input from the emergency services on how its new framework can best support these services. Companies such as SpaceX, Lynk, and AST SpaceMobile are prominent in this space.
- Apple provides emergency SOS services when it announced its iPhone 14, with the company working with Globalstar to provide satellite connectivity through emergency SOS via satellite.
- T-Mobile linked up with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide mobile signal connectivity from space, promising speeds of 2-4Mbps through Starlink satellites and eliminating dead zones, using T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum.
- A number of telcos have recently penned satellite connectivity agreements with satellite operators including Vodafone, Globe, Zain, and TIM Brazil.
Some analyst say that space-based 5G (which has yet to be standardized) will enable enhanced service to cities but also connects remote regions, including areas without traditional mobile service, ships off-shore, through natural disasters and in contested battlefields. Features of 5G from Space might include: connecting massive numbers of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and devices.
From a March 14, 2023 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, National Security Implications of 5G Mobile Technologies:
5G mobile technologies will increase the speed of data transfer and improve bandwidth over existing fourth generation (4G) technologies, in turn enabling new military and commercial applications. 5G technologies are expected to support interconnected or autonomous devices, such as smart homes, self-driving vehicles, precision agriculture systems, industrial machinery, and advanced robotics. 5G for the military could additionally improve intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems and processing; enable new methods of command and control (C2); and streamline logistics systems for increased efficiency, among other uses. As 5G technologies are developed and deployed, Congress may consider policies for spectrum management and national security, as well as implications for U.S. military operations.
U.S. military leaders are telling the wireless and satellite industries they see great potential in 5G, and they’re asking for standards, open interfaces and simple devices.
“I am excited to see what the next couple of years will bring,” said Brigadier General Steve Butow, space portfolio director at the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit. “It is important to take advantage of technologies produced at scale.” Butow joined Colonel Joseph Roberts, assistant program executive officer, PEO C3T, U.S. Army, on a panel at SATELLITE 2023 entitled “The Role of Space-Based 5G in Military Communications.” Executives from defense contractor Lockheed Martin and satellite giant Hughes were also on the panel.
Roberts said space-based 5G can be a “game changer” because it creates “the opportunity to connect every soldier on the battlefield.” Butow encouraged the wireless industry to “migrate to open architectures.” He said that if the industry adopts open interfaces it will “create an environment where we can do lots of business with you.”
Source: Getty Images
At least one satellite operator is also advocating for open interfaces for the wireless infrastructure industry. Open RAN is a top priority for HughesNet® in its work with Dish Network, explained Rick Lober, VP and GM at Hughes’ government and defense division. “We are pushing that very hard,” he said, adding “I’m not sure everyone is on board.”
Lober added that he hopes users of network infrastructure will take full advantage of open RAN by working with a diverse set of vendors. “If you are going to have a program that is about open standards, do not award it to one company,” he said.
Dawna Morningstar, director, next generation solutions at Lockheed Martin, said industry standards are “the critical underpinning” that enables interoperability and scalability. She said Lockheed Martin is actively engaged with wireless industry standards boards. She highlighted 3GPP Release 17’s (not a standard) inclusion of interoperability with non-terrestrial networks. “We can now have these open solutions for air and space that can integrate seamlessly with the terrestrial networks,” she said. “We can get the intelligence down where it needs to be, and back up and distributed.”
Verizon’s Cory Davis, AVP Public Safety at Frontline, said the military is interested in portable 5G private network solutions. Verizon’s Tactical Humanitarian Operations Response (THOR) 5G on wheels has the capabilities the military wants, Davis said, but the form factor is too big for some use cases. “They want to put THOR in a backpack and take it to the desert,” Davis said.
UK based EnSilica, a fabless ASIC and mixed signal chip maker, has announced a contract to develop a new chip to address the next generation of mass market satellite broadband user terminals.
The contract has been awarded through the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems Core Competitiveness program (“ARTES CC”), through the support of the UK Space Agency.
The chip in development will enable a new generation of lower-cost, low-power satellite broadband user terminals, which track the relative movement of low-earth orbit satellites and allow users to access high bandwidth connectivity when out of reach of terrestrial networks.
Use cases include satellite communication-on-the-move (SOTM) for automotive, maritime, and aerospace connectivity as well as extending broadband access to users without internet access.
Dietmar Schmitt, Head of Technologies & Products Division at ESA, said “ESA is pleased to continue our collaboration with EnSilica through the ARTES Core Competitiveness programme and to support this important technology development, which will facilitate the provision of high capacity connectivity across a wide range of use cases.”
Henny Sands, Head of Telecoms at the UK Space Agency, described EnSilica’s satellite broadband user terminals chip as “a brilliant example of the diversity of expertise in the UK’s leading satellite communications sector.”
Henny added: “Through the ARTES CC programme the UK Space Agency aims to champion UK companies that have the right expertise and ambition to become global players in this market and lead on ground-breaking technologies that will enhance the wider UK space sector, create jobs and generate further investment. That’s why we recently announced £50 million of funding for ambitious and innovative projects that will supercharge the UK’s satellite communications industry.”
Paul Morris, VP RF and Communications BU, commented: “We are delighted to be continuing our successful partnerships with both UKSA and ESA to further develop innovative semiconductor solutions for the next generation of satellite broadband user terminals.”
EnSilica is a leading fabless design house focused on custom ASIC design and supply for OEMs and system houses, as well as IC design services for companies with their own design teams. The company has world-class expertise in supplying custom RF, mmWave, mixed signal and digital ICs to its international customers in the automotive, industrial, healthcare and communications markets. The company also offers a broad portfolio of core IP covering cryptography, radar, and communications systems. EnSilica has a track record in delivering high quality solutions to demanding industry standards. The company is headquartered near Oxford, UK and has design centres across the UK and in India and Brazil.
Recent ASICs and Case Studies:
- 40nm Ka-band transceiver and beamformer for satellite terminals
- 180nm BCD H-bridge controller for automotive chassis control
- 55nm low-power mobile phone sensor interface
- 180nm BCD industrial MCU for safety critical applications
- 180nm BCD multi-channel 2GHz phase controller 600nm gyro sensor amplifier
- 28nm audio processor for smart microphone
- 28nm multi-standard GNSS receiver
- 40nm multi-standard analog and digital broadcast receiver
- 40nm 60GHz Radar sensor 65nm medical vital signs sensor with 2.4GHz radio
- 40nm NFC energy harvesting processor
About ESA’S ARTES Core Competitiveness Program:
ESA’s ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems)
program is unique in Europe and aims to support the competitiveness of European and Canadian industry on the world market. Core Competitiveness is dedicated to the development, qualification and demonstration of products (“Competitiveness and Growth”), or long-term technology development (“Advanced Technology”). Products in this context can be equipment for the platform or payload of a satellite, a user terminal, or a full telecom system integrating a network with its space segment.
Bullitt Group, the British manufacturer specializing in rugged mobile phones, has revealed a few more details about its two-way satellite messaging service at CES 2023. The service will be commercially available in North America and Europe the first quarter of 2023, the company said. Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Latin America will launch sometime in the first half of 2023, with other regions following the second half of the year.
Bullitt said Motorola, a Lenovo company, will be the first to include Bullitt’s two-way satellite messaging technology. The next device in Motorola Mobility’s Defy phone line-up will be the first smartphone to support Bullitt’s satellite messaging service.
The company previously said it was using telecom chipset supplier MediaTek. It now says it will use Skylo for satellite connectivity. Skylo manages connections to devices over existing licensed GEO satellite constellations, like Inmarsat and others.
Bullitt Satellite Connect solves a real connectivity problem. American’s send 6 billion SMS text messages each day* but, due to the sheer scale and topography of the country, no single carrier covers more than 70% of the US land mass and around 60 million Americans lose coverage for up to 25% of each day**.
That means hundreds of millions of instances where people who want to communicate via their phone cannot. Coverage blackspots persist to a greater and lesser extent the world over. We have a truly international solution. Bullitt Satellite Messenger provides total reassurance that you will have a connection wherever you have a clear view of the sky.
Citing data from Opensignal, Bullit said it’s solving “a real connectivity problem,” where around 60 million Americans lose coverage for up to 25% of each day. Bullitt Satellite Messenger promises to provide a signal wherever there’s a clear view of the sky, similar to the service Qualcomm announced this week with Iridium for Android devices.
The Bullitt service works by combining Bullitt smartphone hardware and an OTT app, Bullitt Satellite Messenger, to send messages to any smartphone. The service will first try to connect via Wi-Fi or cellular, and if neither are available, it will connect via satellite.
“The service works by combining Bullitt smartphone hardware and the bespoke OTT app, Bullitt Satellite Messenger, to send messages to any smartphone, anywhere you have a clear view of the sky. The service will first try to connect via Wi-Fi or cellular as normal, and if neither are available it will connect via satellite. Anyone can receive a message as a simple SMS to their existing phone and can respond by downloading the associated Android or iOS app.”
Qualcomm and Iridium have introduced Snapdragon Satellite, a solution that brings satellite-to-cellular services to next-generation Android smartphones. Snapdragon Satellite will support two-way messaging from pole to pole in remote, rural, and offshore locations on premium Android smartphones.
Snapdragon Satellite will provide global connectivity using mobile messaging from around the world1, starting with devices based on the flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform.
Powered by Snapdragon 5G Modem-RF Systems and supported by the fully operational Iridium® satellite constellation, Snapdragon Satellite will enable OEMs and other service providers to offer truly global coverage. The solution for smartphones utilizes Iridium’s weather-resilient L-band spectrum for uplink and downlink.
“Robust and reliable connectivity is at the heart of premium experiences. Snapdragon Satellite showcases our history of leadership in enabling global satellite communications and our ability to bring superior innovations to mobile devices at scale,” said Durga Malladi, SVP and GM of Cellular Modems and Infrastructure at Qualcomm.
Image credit: Jose Luis Stephens/Adobe Stock
While the partners say the service can be used for recreational purposes, satellite connectivity is most beneficial for emergencies.
Apple partnered with Globalstar last year to launch its own satellite-powered emergency SOS feature. Numerous people reported that the feature saved their lives just weeks after launch.
In one case, after a car plunged off a mountain cliff, a passenger’s iPhone automatically detected the crash and made a satellite SOS call to alert emergency services of the accident and its location. Within 30 minutes, the occupants were rescued by helicopter.
“If they hadn’t been able to get out the SOS, they could have spent overnight there, gotten wet, developed hypothermia,” Sergeant John Gilbert, a deputy for the local sheriff’s department, told PEOPLE. “To walk out and get help, in a remote area with no cell reception, they were lucky.”
Snapdragon Satellite will provide similar benefits for Android users, starting with devices based on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform.
“Iridium is proud to be the satellite network that supports Snapdragon Satellite for premium smartphones,” said Matt Desch, CEO, Iridium. “Our network is tailored for this service – our advanced, LEO satellites cover every part of the globe and support the lower-power, low-latency connections ideal for the satellite-powered services enabled by the industry-leading Snapdragon Satellite. Millions depend on our connections every day, and we look forward to the many millions more connecting through smartphones powered by Snapdragon Satellite.”
Snapdragon Satellite will use Garmin’s satellite emergency response services.
“Garmin welcomes the opportunity to expand our proven satellite emergency response services to millions of new smartphone users globally,” said Brad Trenkle, VP of Garmin’s outdoor segment. “Garmin Response supports thousands of SOS incidents each year and has likely saved many lives in the process, and we are looking forward to collaborating with Qualcomm Technologies and Iridium to help people connect to emergency services no matter where life takes them.”
In the near future, Qualcomm and Iridium say that Snapdragon Satellite will expand to other devices including laptops, tablets, vehicles, and IoT devices.
“Working with a mobile technology leader such as Qualcomm Technologies and their powerful Snapdragon platforms allows Iridium to serve the smartphone industry horizontally – and offers us an opportunity to enable other consumer and vehicular applications in the future,” concludes Desch.
Iridium Communications Inc. has announced the service introduction of Iridium Messaging TransportSM (IMTSM), a two-way cloud-native networked data service optimized for use over Iridium Certus® and designed to make it easier to add satellite connections to existing or new IoT solutions. IMT provides an IP data transport service unique to the Iridium® network, designed for small-to-moderate-sized messages supporting satellite IoT applications. Integrated with Iridium CloudConnect and Amazon Web Services (AWS), the new service can reduce development costs and speed time to market for new Iridium Connected® IoT devices. IMT has been highly anticipated by Iridium’s partner ecosystem and is currently available for the Iridium Certus 100 service with introduction on Iridium Certus 200, 350 and 700 planned for the first quarter of 2023.
As a connectionless messaging service for Iridium CertusTM modules, IMT aligns with current established server-device message constructs using hubs, Pub/Sub or queues, depending on application platforms. The IMT service can be used by a customer application that is ‘store and forward’ or has small amounts of data traffic that does not require a persistent connection between servers, utilizing an Iridium Certus terminal. Whether it’s machine-to-machine (M2M), e-mails, weather updates, transactions, or group communications, IMT enhances two-way messaging to and from anywhere in the world.
IMT is utilized with the Iridium CloudConnect model of server-side message processing, regardless of the underlying over-the-air and ground systems technologies and protocols. The Iridium CloudConnect service combines Iridium IoT capabilities with AWS cloud services extending customers’ IoT reach to the more than 85 percent of the earth that lacks terrestrial coverage. IMT utilizes industry-standard protocols and technology for managing and delivering messages in the cloud, including MQTT, HTTPS and WebSocket (WSS). This makes IMT an easier, faster, and less expensive protocol to develop with, supporting users with countless advantages to design applications that are scalable and easier to distribute to other platforms.
Among the first products built with IMT available are the RockREMOTE by Ground Control and STREAM+ by MetOcean Telematics. The RockREMOTE offers a reliable and flexible solution for industrial IoT applications including oil and gas, mining, utilities and renewables, and transport & cargo. It has a built-in MQTT application that allows developers to submit and receive data payloads across the MQTT protocol. Users can send and receive messages, pictures, to and from anywhere in the world utilizing this IMT implementation over the Iridium Certus 100 service.
Also powered by Iridium Certus 100, STREAM+ allows users to send and receive files and messages securely. Designed for field applications with size, weight, and power constraints, STREAM+ offers a range of industry standard protocols, features, and inputs simplifying integration and installation for end users and reducing development costs and overall time to market.
“The launch of Iridium Messaging Transport adds another powerful capability to the Iridium Certus portfolio and another value-added service for our partners and the growing IoT market,” said Bryan Hartin, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Iridium. “Our partners are excited about IMT as it will make it faster and easier for them to add Iridium satellite connectivity to new and existing solutions needed across a number of industries.”
Unique in the satellite industry, Iridium Certus is the only broadband service that provides reliable, weather-resilient connectivity for on-the-move internet, high-quality voice, email, live-action video and IoT data transfer. Through its constellation of crosslinked satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), Iridium is the only communications company that offers truly global coverage and is ideally suited for IoT applications.
The Iridium® network is uniquely qualified to provide global satellite IoT services due to its network architecture of 66 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, blanketing the earth with reliable and ubiquitous coverage.
Examples of satellite IoT usage can be found across all industry verticals from the maritime market to machine-to-machine (M2M) applications in transportation, agriculture, oil and gas, utilities and construction, among many others. To help paint a clear picture of how satellite IoT is used today, let’s explore the heavy equipment market. Many of the world’s largest heavy equipment Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) rely on Iridium’s satellite IoT solutions to remotely monitor and manage deployed assets. For instance, Kobelco Construction Machinery (KCM) recently partnered with Iridium to integrate Iridium’s two-way satellite communications into its hydraulic excavator machinery, heavy equipment, and remote asset management platform. Through the addition of Iridium IoT services, KCM equipment is now fitted with truly global coverage for the first time. Additionally, KCM deployed assets can be programmed to automatically deliver recurring telematics information like engine performance, run time, fault diagnostics, and other maintenance related data to customers through critical, real-time, actionable reports and alerts.
About Iridium Communications:
Iridium® is the only mobile voice and data satellite communications network that spans the entire globe. Iridium enables connections between people, organizations and assets to and from anywhere, in real time. Together with its ecosystem of partner companies, Iridium delivers an innovative and rich portfolio of reliable solutions for markets that require truly global communications. In 2019, the company completed a generational upgrade of its satellite network and launched its new specialty broadband service, Iridium Certus®. Iridium Communications Inc. is headquartered in McLean, Va., U.S.A., and its common stock trades on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker symbol IRDM. For more information about Iridium products, services and partner solutions, visit www.iridium.com.
Apple finally confirmed a longstanding rumor that its new iPhones will be able to connect directly to LEO satellites to send and receive text messages. The feature, called Emergency SOS, will allow iPhone 14 models to message from remote locations not covered by traditional cellular infrastructure. Apple says the service launches in November and will be free to iPhone 14 buyers for two years. It didn’t specify what it might cost after that. Apple noted at Wednesday’s Cupertino, CA HQ event that its smartphone would need to be pointed directly at a satellite to work, and that even light foliage could make texts a few minutes to send.
Globalstar confirmed in a filing Wednesday that it will be operating the service through a partnership with Apple. Under that agreement, Apple will cover 95% of the capital expenditures made by Globalstar to build up its network, including new satellites, to provide the service. It will require Globalstar to allocate 85% of its “current and future network capacity” to support the service, which analyst Mike Crawford of B. Riley describes as “in one fell swoop converting an underutilized asset to a productive asset.”
The deal will include service fees and potential bonus payments, allowing Globalstar to project total revenue in a range of $185 million to $230 million for next year and $250 million to $310 million for 2026, which is expected to be the first full year that all of the company’s new satellites are operational. Even the low end of the near-term target would be a record high for the satellite-service provider, representing a gain of 44% above the annual revenue Globalstar has averaged for the past three years. Globalstar notably broke from the traditionally dry language of SEC filings to describe the deal as “transformational.”
Globalstar, currently offers SPOT X which provides 2-way satellite messaging so users can stay connected whenever you’re outside of cellular range, including direct communication with search & rescue services in case of a life-threatening emergency. SPOT X provides your own personal U.S. mobile number so others can message you directly from their mobile phone or SMS devices at any time.
Globalstar Satellite System:
Like “bent-pipes” or mirrors in the sky, the Globalstar satellites pick up signals from over 80% of the Earth’s surface. Our satellites transmit customer signals via CDMA technology to antennas at the appropriate terrestrial gateway, then the signals are routed through the local networks. This highly effective design offers the shortest connectivity latency and enables Globalstar to upgrade our system with the latest technology on the ground.
Globalstar’s new satellite constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and second generation ground infrastructure deliver exceptional quality, reliable coverage and high quality service to its customers.
Image Credit: Globalstar
The company’s patented satellite path and gateway diversity technologies allow customers to stay connected in the event of a single satellite failure by automatically transmitting to the next available satellite. This ensures uninterrupted communication in even the most suboptimal conditions like mountainous areas or urban canyons.
There is increasing competition for LEO satellite based internet access from smartphones:
- Starlink/SpaceX, announced a deal last month with T-Mobile to launch a text-based service by the end of next year. The Apple-Globalstar service might have cooled some enthusiasm. It is designed for emergency texting only, as opposed to providing a more typical smartphone experience in the wild.
- In addition to T-Mobile’s venture with SpaceX, the Globalstar rival Iridium announced in July that it has entered a development agreement with an unnamed company for a smartphone service that it expects to complete by the end of the year. Ric Prentiss of Raymond James wrote Thursday that the total addressable market “for satellite-smartphone off-the-grid connectivity is quite large with room for several initiatives globally.”
During a live media event Thursday afternoon, T-Mobile’s Mike Sievert and SpaceX’s Elon Musk announced a new partnership that’s intended to connect T-Mobile sold phones to a new constellation of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. The result, according to the companies, will be the elimination of all cellular dead zones around the U.S.
“It’s a lot like putting a cellular tower in the sky,” Sievert said, adding that the “vast majority” of T-Mobile’s existing phones would be supported by the service. Meaning, customers will not need to purchase new phones in order to connect them to Starlink’s second-generation satellites.
Sievert said that T-Mobile expects to offer the service for no additional charge on its more expensive plans. For customers on its cheaper plans, he said they may need to pay an additional monthly charge in order to be able to access satellite coverage.
In 2020, AT&T agreed to let startup AST SpaceMobile use its Band 5 spectrum to test transmissions from its BlueWalker 1 satellite to devices on the ground. AST SpaceMobile is now hoping to launch its new BlueWalker 3 prototype later next month. However, as reported by SpaceNews, supply chain issues delayed the launch of AST SpaceMobile’s first operational satellite by about six months, to late 2023.
AST SpaceMobile’s main rival, Lynk, already has one operational satellite in orbit for phone connections. As noted by Ars Technica, the company is hoping to receive FCC approval to offer satellite-to-phone services across 35 countries by the end of this year.
“Elon said it’s hard, and it’s only been done in the lab, but Lynk has done it in space already,” Lynk’s Charles Miller told the publication yesterday. “We’re the only company in the world that has done that.”
Lynk hasn’t yet announced an agreement with a major U.S. network operator, though it has agreements with a number of international operators. Lynk tested its services in the U.S. with Smith Bagley, a tiny wireless network operator offering services under the Cellular One brand in East Arizona.
“There are significant regulatory hurdles to clear, as the FCC is reviewing SpaceX’s request to launch a constellation of 30,000 Gen2 satellites, while other LEO proposals including Amazon’s Project Kuiper (with whom Verizon is collaborating) and AST SpaceMobile (financial backing from Vodafone and a commercial agreement with AT&T) are also working DC as well as international agencies to put some rules in place for this latest chapter of the Space Race,” Raymond James analysts wrote in a note to investors.
UPDATE: Apple iPhone 14 text messages via Globalstar LEO satellites starting Nov 2022:
Microsoft is expanding its relationships with space companies through the Azure Space Partner Community, an initiative unveiled July 19 at the Microsoft Inspire 2022 conference.
The Azure Space Partner Community enables Microsoft’s partners to deliver the most comprehensive and innovative offerings to joint customers, helping to shape the future of space technologies and services. The space industry is rapidly advancing and we believe in the power of bringing together this community in an ecosystem.
This ecosystem is enabled with opportunities such as co-engineering, go-to-market scaling and support, alongside many other benefits designed to empower our partners. We are excited to rapidly innovate and advance the industry with our inaugural cohort of partners, and we look forward to welcoming new partners in the days to come.
“By launching the Azure Space Partner Community, we can enable our partners to deliver the most comprehensive and innovative offerings to our joint customers, and help shape the future of space technologies and services,” Stephen Kitay, Microsoft Azure Space senior director, told SpaceNews. “This is an ecosystem of space partners with exclusive access to technical support and scaling solutions.”
Microsoft’s inaugural cohort of space-related partners are Airbus, Amergint, Ball Aerospace, blackshark.ai, Esri, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, iDirect, Intelsat, Kratos, KSAT, Loft Orbital, Nokia, Omnispace, Orbital Insight, SES, SkyWatch, SpaceX, Thales Alenia Space, US Electrodynamics, Viasat and Xplore.
Image Credit: Microsoft
“We look forward to welcoming new partners in the days to come,” Kitay said.
Microsoft has played a growing role in the space sector since announcing plans in 2020 to help customers move data directly from satellites into the Azure cloud for processing and storage.
“We’ve increasingly seen an opportunity for this community to benefit from Microsoft engineering and go-to-market resources,” Kitay said.
Azure Space Community partners will have access to Microsoft sales and engineering specialists, go-to-market scale and support, and guidance related to marketing and community involvement. In addition, Azure Space Partners will be eligible for incentives like Azure credits, sponsored accounts and volume discounts.
By establishing the Azure Space Community, Microsoft is “creating more of a structure” to clearly convey the benefits of membership and enable the tech giant to “efficiently onboard” new partners, Kitay said.
Through the Azure Space Partner Community (which falls under the broader Microsoft Partner Program), Microsoft also is acknowledging the growing importance of the space sector.
“It is absolutely representative of the value and importance that Microsoft is placing on this industry and our excitement about growing alongside these partners,” Kitay said. “Space is a big data domain, where massive amounts of data are either moving through space with connectivity solutions or being collected from space and transmitted to the Earth. The need to process that, understand it and then connect it with customers is vitally important.
Program Details and Deliverables:
Image Credit: Microsoft
Co-innovation and engineering:
The Azure Space Partner Community will have direct access to Microsoft engineering and specialist resources to turn our partnership vision into reality, including:
- Participation in Azure Space training to learn about and onboard the latest Azure Space technologies.
- Collaboration and innovation with our engineering and sales specialist teams for customer proof of concepts to demonstrate the value of our partnership.
- Access to quarterly Azure Space NDA roadmap reviews and newsletters, and ability to directly influence the produce roadmap.
- Partner highlighting in reference architectures and training materials.
- Priority access to early adopter and private preview programs.
Go-to-market scale and support:
Our Azure Space Partner Community will be able to increase their go-to-market opportunities by participating in the following opportunities:
- Microsoft first party product integration or add-ins, such as in Teams, Power BI, or productivity tools.
- White glove onboarding to the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, to become a cloud solution provider or managed solution provider via direct or indirect channels.
- Support onboarding to the Azure Marketplace as an indirect or transactable offer, with access to a broad set of Azure sellers and customers.
- Joint go-to-market coordination with a regular cadence of customer pipeline reviews.
Marketing and community involvement:
Azure Space provides a unique opportunity for our partners to expand their marketing through public outreach via our marketing channels, such as:
- Opportunities to be showcased in Microsoft customer presentations and sales training.
- Participation in space and spectrum focused Microsoft events – such as BUILD, Inspire or sales readiness.
- Joint public relations and marketing opportunities, such as press releases, blogs, and speaking events at conferences.
Product offering incentives:
The Space Partner Community will also have special access to our premier incentives offered for Azure Space product offerings:
- Azure credits, sponsored accounts, and volume discounts in return for Microsoft Azure Consumption Commitment.
- Enterprise Agreement Programs, such as Licensed Service Providers (LSPs) and Azure Online Services Government (AOSG), with rebates based on resell criteria.
- FastTrack dedicated modernization and migration architecture support for qualified opportunities.
- Many other Microsoft Partner Network benefits, such as credits for gold competencies and partner marketing benefits via co-sell programs.