Lynk Global envisages a total constellation of 5,000 satellites built in-house. Credit: Lynk Global

SAN FRANCISCO – Lynk Global announced contracts Feb. 23 with mobile network operators serving Pacific and Caribbean Island nations in the wake of the volcanic eruption that decimated Tonga’s communications infrastructure.

Falls Church, Virginia-based Lynk revealed commercial contracts with mobile network operators, including Telikom PNG in Papua New Guinea and bmobile in the Solomon Islands, that provide coverage for seven island nations.

“We continue to add carriers as launch partners and anticipate more in the coming months,” Lynk CEO Charles Miller said in a statement. “The recent Tonga disaster shows just how important connectivity is for people’s health and safety during a disaster.”

While islands are particularly vulnerable to communications outages caused by volcanoes and tsunamis, people around the world face network outages stemming from “hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and blizzards,” Miller said.

Lynk plans to roll out its commercial “cell-towers-in-space” service later this year. In early February, the startup announced its fifth satellite established connections with thousands of unmodified smartphones, tablets, internet-of-things devices and vehicles.

Lynk’s goal is to ensure that “everyone, everywhere in the world can access mobile connectivity, no matter what happens,” Miller said.

Islands pose particular challenges for mobile connectivity providers, including remote locations where cell tower construction is expensive, exposure to the harsh maritime environment and populations dispersed across large geographies.

Papua New Guinea’s nine million residents, for example, are spread across a land mass of 453,000 square kilometers. More than 80 percent of them have limited or no mobile connectivity from terrestrial cell infrastructure. The same is true for more than 75 percent of the residents of the Solomon Islands, according to the Lynk news release.

“Mobile phone connectivity across land and sea continues to be a major priority for Papua New Guinea and our neighbor the Solomon Islands,” Amos Tepi, Telikom PNG acting CEO, said in a statement. The government of Papua New Guinea is re-evaluating “the infrastructure needed to keep our people, including our fishermen, safe and connected,” Tepi said. “The option to bypass mobile base stations is increasingly relevant to our communities especially in far flung locations.”

In addition to providing ongoing connectivity for mobile devices, Lynk plans to offer an emergency alert service. If a tsunami is anticipated, for example, Lynk can send alerts to mobile phones to warn people to move to higher ground, Miller said at the recent SmallSat Symposium.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...