TAMPA, Fla. — A mobile operator in the Pacific island nation of Palau is set to be the first to use Lynk Global’s direct-to-device satellites commercially to keep wireless customers connected outside terrestrial network coverage.

The Palau National Communications Corporation (PNCC), the country’s largest telco, said June 21 the U.S.-based startup’s technology will enable periodic texting later in the month in the country’s southwest.

PNCC customers would be able to send and receive texts with their existing phones up to three times a day across three of the four islands in Palau’s Sonsorol state, Lynk CEO Charles Miller said in an interview.

These customers currently use radios on very high frequency (VHF) spectrum for communications in Sonsorol.

Lynk currently has three small satellites in a low Earth orbit constellation it is seeking to expand to increase coverage and lower latency, ultimately enabling other connectivity services such as voice calls.

Miller said the Virginia-based venture has secured funding to launch three more satellites this fall, and has funding commitments to deploy another six in January.

The company aims to be operating more than 50 satellites by the end of 2024, and has plans for a constellation of around 5,000 satellites in total.

For PNCC in Palau, Miller said this deployment plan would enable Lynk to expand satellite-enabled coverage over two more islands before the end of 2023, and then across Palau’s more than 300 islands and surrounding waters by March.

In addition to helping PNCC fulfill its mandate for universal service to all of Palau, Miller said Lynk would also be able to provide backup services if a natural disaster knocks out the country’s ground network.

PNCC is one of more than 30 companies that Lynk says have signed agreements with the satellite startup. According to Lynk, it has completed successful demonstrations of its technology in over 40 countries on seven continents to date.

Lynk also needs additional regulatory approvals to operate in all the countries it is planning services, including the United States, which recently proposed a direct-to-device regulatory framework for the industry.

Miller declined to comment on other countries where Lynk has market access, although the startup has announced plans to launch commercially in New Zealand this fall and in Canada earlier next year via partnerships with mobile operators.

Lynk’s competitors in the emerging direct-to-device market include AST SpaceMobile, which plans to launch its first five commercial satellites early next year.

AST SpaceMobile announced June 21 its engineers had achieved 4G LTE download speeds during tests earlier in the month of BlueWalker 3, its prototype in low Earth orbit.

The Texas-based startup said it had achieved repeated successful download speeds above 10 megabits per second (Mbps) in Hawaii with multiple mass market smartphones. 

In April, AST SpaceMobile said it had made its first voice call with a standard smartphone using the test satellite.

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...