New Zealand telcos are aiming for the skies to improve mobile coverage in the country, through the use of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
2degrees said it is trialling cellular connectivity with provider Lynk, which operates a constellation of non geostationary orbit satellites.
Lynk's Asia Pacific vice president James Alderdice said its Lynk the World LEO satellites act as cell towers in space, providing connectivity directly to mobile phones wihtout any modifications to either the telco network, or customer devices.
Founded by space industry veterans Charles Miller, Margo Deckard and Tyghe Speidel, Lynk says it is the first company to have created a successful two-way connection between a standard mobile cellular device on Earth, and a satellite cell tower.
The difficulty faced by satellite cellular service providers is the long distance between the high-altitude "tower" which can be more than 500 kilometres away, and which travels at high speeds of 28,000 km/h.
Lynk said it has created an eight-step registration flow with proprietary technology for mobile devices that allows it to pick out and authenticate subscribers that can use its service, despite the high speed and altitude, and presence of multiple phones on Earth.
Service viability has been tested and demonstrated by Lynk in 21 countries including New Zealand, ahead of commercial launch.
With successful demonstrations in New Zealand, the team at @LynkTheWorld has successfully tested our sat-to-mobile system across this island nation. Follow us here for weekly updates.#connectivity #satcoms #mobile pic.twitter.com/kJiHS3kyCR— Connecting the World, 2.5 Billion People at a Time (@LynkTheWorld) February 2, 2023
Apple has already launched basic satelite connectivity through operator Globalstar, with its iPhone 14 phones.
The service can be used to make emergency calls in out of terrestrial coverage areas, and works in North America currently.
Vodafone becomes One NZ, goes with SpaceX Starlink
Meanwhile, 2degrees competitor Vodafone which has completed its rebranding as One NZ, said it is collaborating with Elon Musk-owned SpaceX to use the latter's Starlink LEO satellites to provide 100 per cent nationwide coverage with no blackspots.
One NZ chief executive Jason Paris referred to the recent, extremely damaging tropical storm, and claimed the Starlink provided cellular service "means the immediate communication issues experienced after Cyclone Gabrielle will be confined to history."
"It will give our customers more freedom with 100 per cent coverage across the country and means New Zealanders and New Zealand businesses are safe with us," Paris said.
SpaceX is trialling basic satellite cellular service with United States telco T-Mobile in the 5G 1900 MHz band.
Text and multimedia messages are supported, along with certain messenger apps.
Musk said in August that the Starlink service will offer speeds of 2 to 4 megabits per second per cellular sector.
For New Zealand, the Starlink mobile service will arrive late 2024, through SpaceX's next generation satellites.
Initially, text messaging and MMS will be supported, with voice and data services to follow, One NZ said.
One NZ communications lead Matthew Flood told CRN NZ that the frequency band for the Starlink-delivered service will be 1800 MHz.
However, the amount of bandwidth or which release of the mobile telco organisation 3GPP specification was not disclosed.
One NZ will close down its 3G network next year, and only run 4G LTE and 5G connectivity.