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April 9, 2021
Startup Omnispace is asking the FCC for permission to test transmissions from its medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellite in Brewster, Washington.
First, the company has hinted at tests of its technology with the US military. "Omnispace is currently under contract with the US Air Force's (USAF) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to assist with building future communications capabilities for the US military and government in the furtherance of US national security," the company wrote in an FCC filing last year. "Part of this contract includes the testing and demonstration of Omnispace's current capabilities for various units of the USAF and US military, including the US Space Force's (USSF) E-FORGE unit."
The company did not provide any more details on the tests.
However, Omnispace has made no secret of its desires to sell its satellite-based connectivity services to customers including the US government and the US military. "Omnispace is already engaging with the public sector," the company wrote this week in response to questions from Light Reading.
Indeed, Omnispace announced just last month that it successfully demonstrated a 5G connection to a satellite in work with the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), along with the US Navy and Marine Corps.
Omnispace said it conducted those tests in connection with Verizon's 5G "Living Lab."
"A number of commercial-off-the-shelf 5G devices successfully communicated voice and data services via an emulated 5G radio access network (RAN), to Omnispace's on-orbit satellite, leveraging LinQuest Corporation's lab facility in Northern Virginia," Omnispace explained in a release.
The company's more recent filings with the FCC raise additional questions. For its proposed tests in Brewster, Omnispace said it will "coordinate its operations with the appropriate licensee in the H block and AWS-4 band respectively in the Brewster, Washington, area." Brian Goemmer, founder of spectrum-tracking company AllNet Insights & Analytics, said those H block and AWS-4 spectrum licenses are owned by Dish Network.
Omnispace didn't respond to questions about whether it was working with Dish, and a Dish representative did not immediately respond to questions from Light Reading on the topic.
But there is certainly precedent to Omnispace working with Dish. After all, Dish has already signaled its interest in working with the US military on communications networks. Moreover, Dish wouldn't be the first 5G player to show an interest in connections from space; for example, Light Reading reported last year that AT&T was putting the final touches on an agreement with startup SpaceMobile that could allow the operator to connect its customers' existing phones directly to SpaceMobile's satellites.
Omnispace, for its part, recently announced a new "strategic interest agreement" with US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The companies said they're looking at military applications for Omnispace's satellite-based network that can beam Internet connections directly to 5G devices.
Omnispace isn't the only company looking at providing 5G from space. Startups Lynk and SpaceMobile are each racing to deploy satellite constellations capable of broadcasting 4G and 5G signals directly to users' existing phones through mobile network operators' existing spectrum holdings. (It's worth noting that Omnispace plans to conduct its transmissions through its own S-band 2GHz spectrum licenses.)
Just this week, AST SpaceMobile went public through a "special purpose acquisition company" (SPAC). The company's stock – traded under the ticker ASTS – initially jumped to around $12 per share in its first day of trading before settling at around $10 per share by the end of this week.
AST SpaceMobile Chairman and CEO Abel Avellan told IWCE's Urgent Communications – a sister publication to Light Reading – that AST SpaceMobile plans to provide service to southern portions of the US – including Texas, Florida and other parts of "hurricane alley" – in early 2023. He said the company's current satellite-launch schedule would provide global coverage in 2024.
Avellan added that AST SpaceMobile's satellites ought to deliver signals to smartphones with latency between 20 milliseconds and 40 milliseconds.
And what kinds of connection speeds might AST SpaceMobile provide? "[The data throughput rate] depends on many things," Avellan explained. "It depends on the number of satellites we have deployed, whether the user is outside or inside, the density of users, etc. In terms of the peak data rates for a cell, initially it will be around 120 Mbit/s at the peak data rate. As we add more satellites, as we add MIMO and as we add more spectrum, we'll be going up to around to 700 to 750 Mbit/s per cellular cell."
Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading
Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.
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