Ligado and Omnispace say combining spectrum will help expand the ecosystem of D2D applications and technologies. Credit: Omnispace

TAMPA, Fla. — Ligado Networks and Omnispace announced plans Feb. 23 to pool their satellite spectrum to boost the text, voice, and data services they aim to provide directly to standard smartphones and other devices.

Ligado runs a communications network from geostationary orbit that government and enterprise customers across North America access via specialized terminals, and Omnispace is developing plans for a global non-geostationary connectivity constellation.

Both have previously outlined plans to enter an emerging direct-to-device (D2D) market amid efforts to standardize satellite and terrestrial mobile services. 

Some satellite companies plan to use spectrum from mobile operator partners to connect devices outside cellular coverage. 

Others, such as Ligado and Omnispace, see advantages of using mobile satellite spectrum already licensed to connect devices on the ground from space.

Their partnership would combine parts of Ligado’s L-band spectrum in the U.S. and Canada with the S-band spectrum Omnispace has across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific to expand their international capabilities.

The companies said in a news release their agreement also paves the way for developing multi-band, multi-orbit D2D solutions.

For consumer smartphones, these solutions would include two-way voice, messaging, and data capabilities they say would go beyond the emergency texting services provided by D2D pioneer Apple under its partnership with satellite operator Globalstar.

“In many ways, this spectrum combination is the last missing piece to unlocking the full promise and potential of direct-to-device connectivity and creates the necessary foundation for an exceptional voice, text and data experience,” Omnispace CEO Ram Viswanathan said in a statement.

“Together with Ligado, we will bring the spectrum and technology to deliver a game-changing solution directly from space to a variety of devices that could benefit billions of mobile subscribers worldwide.”

The companies did not provide a timeframe and declined to elaborate on a news release that was thin on details.

“We suspect the best way for the companies to maximize the value of their spectrum portfolio and constellation is via a neutral-host model,” New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin said, enabling them to partner with multiple terrestrial network operators worldwide.

“The satellite network could operate as an overlay network for terrestrial networks that are geographically limited and mostly operate within single countries,” Chaplin said.

“The D2D network could sell capacity to terrestrial network operators or split revenues that the terrestrial operators collect for D2D services.”

Chaplin also noted that their spectrum partnership does not have a global portfolio, suggesting they might be open to partnering with another satellite operator with licenses in Europe.

Inmarsat, Echostar, and Thuraya all have some combination of S-band and L-band spectrum in Europe, he added.

D2D provides Ligado with an important growth opportunity after plans to beam L-band spectrum terrestrially for a 5G network in the United States were put on hold following GPS interference concerns

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...