The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is keen on accelerating the adoption of satellite-to-phone services, proposing new rules that would simplify the process for phone carriers and satellite operators to deliver coverage in remote and underserved areas. The proposal suggests that satellite companies collaborating with cellular providers could obtain FCC authorization to operate on specific licensed, flexible wireless spectrum typically allocated for ground-based services.
To be eligible, operators would need to meet certain criteria, such as using non-geostationary orbit satellites and securing leases from terrestrial spectrum owners in the targeted area. Once these conditions are met, they could offer outdoor services even in locations where cellphones are rendered inoperative.
Presently, only a handful of devices support satellite connections. Apple’s iPhone 14 lineup, for example, can utilize satellites to transmit emergency messages. Additionally, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Satellite allows off-grid texting for Android phones equipped with Snapdragon systems-on-chip and the X70 modem, although this feature will not be available until the latter half of 2023. Carrier collaborations, such as T-Mobile and SpaceX’s Starlink-based partnership, are expected to commence in earnest later this year, with testing set to begin soon. This collaboration should enable compatibility with standard texting as well as certain messaging applications.
Current technology primarily relies on line-of-sight connections to satellites, and the limited bandwidth of existing solutions renders them unsuitable for substantial data transfers. Nonetheless, these connections can prove invaluable in emergency situations, such as contacting first responders during a hike or confirming one’s arrival at a remote campsite. The ultimate goal is to expand the use of satellites for general data transmission.
The FCC is actively seeking public feedback on how the proposed satellite-to-cell rules could enhance access to 911 services and Wireless Emergency Alerts.
Additionally, the agency is investigating the potential applicability of this framework to other objectives, regions, and wireless bands. If the proposal progresses, carriers beyond T-Mobile may find it considerably easier to address network coverage gaps.