Updated 6:50 p.m. Eastern with SpaceX letters to Omnispace.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Omnispace says it is seeing interference from direct-to-device payloads on recently launched SpaceX Starlink satellites, offering an early test of new Federal Communications Commission regulations about such services.

During a panel at the International Telecoms Week conference here May 16, George Giagtzoglou, vice president of strategy at Omnispace, said his company now had “empirical evidence” of increased noise in S-band from Starlink satellites that have payloads operating on similar frequencies.

“We’ve talked in the past about there being academic evidence, engineering studies. What we are actually seeing now with those satellites in operation is empirical evidence,” he said. “You see the noise floor on our satellites increase to the degree that services cannot be provided.”

After launching a handful of Starlink satellites with experimental direct-to-device payloads, SpaceX has ramped up deployment of satellites with payloads intended to communicate directly with unmodified mobile phones. Two Falcon 9 launches from California on May 10 and May 14 each carried 13 satellites with direct-to-device payloads, part of 20 Starlink satellites launched overall on each mission.

Omnispace has been among the companies critical of SpaceX’s plans to partner with mobile network operator T-Mobile in the U.S. to provide direct-to-device services using terrestrial T-Mobile spectrum in the same band as Omnispace’s mobile satellite services (MSS) assignment from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Omnispace has plans for a constellation of more than 600 satellites but currently only operates a few experimental satellites in low and medium Earth orbits.

“There are rules about this. We have rights from the ITU to operate our satellites in our band, in our orbits,” he said. “It’s fine to sort of move fast and break things, but at some point things will get shut down when they interfere with regulations.”

SpaceX, in letters to Omnispace and the FCC, has criticized the company for being unwilling to discuss coordination of their systems. A May 8 letter from David Goldman, vice president of satellite policy at SpaceX, to Mindel De La Torre, chief regulatory and international strategy officer at Omnispace, stated that Omnispace approached SpaceX in December 2023 about coordination and SpaceX agreed, but Omnispace had not followed up despite several requests by SpaceX to do so.

He reiterated past assertions by SpaceX that the company’s full direct-to-cell constellation would not result in harmful interference with Omnispace. “If Omnispace still somehow believes SpaceX’s showings are not sufficient, Omnispace should be eager to provide its true operational parameters so the parties can analyze any actual risk of interference,” he wrote.

A May 17 letter from Goldman to De La Torre referenced this article. “While SpaceX is ready to evaluate your claim, it appears that Omnispace has not made this empirical evidence available,” he said of Omnispace’s comments in the conference panel, asking the company to make that evidence available to SpaceX and the FCC along with the service disruptions mentioned in the panel.

The letter also noted that Omnispace had still not contacted SpaceX about coordinating their systems, suggesting it may be linked to Omnispace’s use of a license from Papua New Guinea. “Could you please let us know if Omnispace’s position is that as a licensee of Papua New Guinea, it is not required to follow ITU or FCC requirements to coordinate in good faith?” Goldman wrote.

That reported interference could become a test of new FCC regulations adopted in March about direct-to-device satellite services, called Supplemental Coverage from Space (SCS) by the agency. The SCS regulations treat those services as secondary to primary frequency allocations, like Omnispace’s MSS assignment. Omnispace said at the time they were encouraged by the FCC’s decision to make SCS a secondary service but remained concerned about potential interference from Starlink direct-to-device payloads.

Despite the interference concerns, Giagtzoglou and others on the panel remained optimistic about the prospects of direct-to-device satellite services for mobile handsets as well as Internet of Things devices. “The changes that we’re looking at here are substantial and revolutionary for the satellite industry,” he said.

Those opportunities, panelists said, range from helping mobile network operators fill dead zones to enabling new applications, like vehicle telematics. Many of those applications will involve working with mobile network operators. “Nobody knows those markets better than the carriers,” said Francis O’Flaherty, chief operating officer and managing director of Rivada Space Networks. “Being able to offer them a service that can expand their markets and offer them new revenue opportunities is phenomenal.”

Lynk, which is deploying a satellite constellation to provide direct-to-device messaging services, is partnered with eight operators in seven countries, said Dan Dooley, the company’s chief commercial officer. “You don’t know it’s space-based. You don’t necessarily care,” he said of the services his company offers. “It is a very frictionless way to participate in a trillion-dollar business.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...