The days of “no signal” may be numbered, thanks to Lynk’s satellite network, which allows any modern phone to exchange data instantaneously with a satellite overhead, without the need for a specific antenna or chip. The business tested a 2-way data link and revealed the first-ever network partners in Bahamas and Africa; if everything goes as planned, it won’t be long before one can receive a signal anywhere on the planet.
Originally named as Ubiquitilink, Lynk has already been building up to this point for years, with Charles Miller, the founder of Nanoracks, at the helm. In 2019, they came out of hiding to say that they had launched multiple test satellites to demonstrate their claim that an average phone could link to a satellite in the low Earth orbit. Early tests showed they could overcome noise, doppler shift, as well as other issues that had some experts writing the endeavour off, and in 2020 they delivered the first conventional SMS directly from the satellite to a regular phone. That would have been a wonderful and beneficial capability to offer governments and network suppliers on its own.
Ordinary mobile networks cannot be relied on to deliver crucial communications to affected areas in crises, like after natural disasters or even during blackouts. Lynk demonstrated how a satellite could send an evacuation or even shelter-in-place message to an entire city, and this could be one of the ways the technology is utilized in the future. But it wasn’t until last week that business demonstrated a two-way link between a satellite and a phone (their fifth, “Shannon”), allowing someone on the ground to both receive as well as send data if a Lynk satellite is overhead. Of course, it’s not a lot of data — but it’s more than sufficient for an SMS, a weather report, a GPS location, or something like that. (As the constellation expands, higher data speeds will become available.)
In a press statement, Miller stated, “We have repeatedly shown the 2-way call flow necessary for a phone to connect to the cell tower in space.” “This 2-way call flow includes many instances of downlink and uplink signalling, as well as a device request for the channel access and the authentication and location update operations that follow.” We’ve done this with dozens of phones in the United Kingdom, the Bahamas, as well as the United States thus far. This has never been verified with a satellite cell tower before, but Lynk has.” It’s an understatement to suggest that it’s a game-changer. When Lynk adds a few more satellites to orbit, it will be able to cover a large portion of the globe in signal — albeit a narrow as well as intermittent signal, but better than nothing if you get to break your ankle while you are hiking in backcountry or even want to reassure your family that you’re safe after a hurricane cuts out the power in your city.