An illustration of an I-6 F1 satellite launched in late 2021 to replenish Inmarsat MSS services now controlled by Viasat. Credit: Airbus

TAMPA, Fla. — A group of satellite operators have joined forces to push the fledgling direct-to-smartphone market to adopt services using their radiowaves, rather than spectrum derived from terrestrial mobile network operators.

Viasat, Terrestar Solutions, Ligado Networks, Omnispace, and Yahsat announced the creation of the Mobile Satellite Services Association (MSSA) Feb. 9, a non-profit aiming to harmonize Mobile Satellite Services for integrating with standardized devices.

Together, they hold more than 100 megahertz of L- and S-band spectrum that they say could help extend terrestrial cellular networks worldwide.

San Francisco-based Skylo says it has developed ground infrastructure technology that would enable satellite-based messaging from smartphones slated to roll out by the end of the year, using geostationary satellites operated by Viasat, Ligado, and Terrestar.

“We have multiple partners including carriers and [original equipment manufacturers] conducting trials of SMS this quarter,” Skylo cofounder Tarun Gupta told SpaceNews via email.

“We anticipate that carriers will integrate and roll out the service to users by the end of this year on new devices coming out.”

MSSA wll advocate for policies, laws and regulations that would encourage widespread adoption of the service in alignment with standards widely used by the cellular industry, potentially enabling direct-to-smartphone users to roam across their networks

Iridium Communications, a global operator of Mobile Satellite Services that recently decided to move away from a proprietary direct-to-smartphone network for an open network approach, is notably absent from the MSSA partnership.

MSSA is led by Viasat chair and CEO Mark Dankberg.

“Integrating satellite connectivity into consumer mobile devices is a transformative opportunity for the satellite industry,” Dankberg said in a news release.

“As a coalition of leaders with a unified voice, MSSA will be a driving force in making this new marketplace a reality, while respecting the rights of nations to meaningfully engage and retain sovereignty in a rapidly growing space economy.”

On the other side of the direct-to-smartphone market, players such as SpaceX, Lynk Global, and AST SpaceMobile see using cellular spectrum from mobile network operator partnerships as key to building a critical mass of subscribers.

Their services would also reach unmodified smartphones already in consumer pockets. 

Lynk Global, which launched commercial services last year, says it is currently serving more than seven countries, including parts of Palau, the Cook Islands, and Solomon Islands.

However, while Mobile Satellite Service operators already have widespread permission to beam their radio frequencies from space to devices, direct-to-smartphone players seeking to use cellular spectrum more broadly must overcome many interference concerns and regulatory hurdles.

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...