In the 5G race to space, Lynk takes the lead against SpaceMobile

Startup Lynk expects to begin offering commercial services as early as next year, fully one year earlier than its rival SpaceMobile.

Of course, being the first to market is not necessarily the primary indicator of ultimate success. Further, one company's version of commercial-level services may not be the same as another.

Nonetheless, the fact that Lynk is promising availability in 2022 is noteworthy considering SpaceMobile has been dominating discussions about cellular service from space for the past year.

AST & Science's SpaceMobile burst onto the scene early last year with the announcement of a $110 million Series B round of funding from the likes of Rakuten, Vodafone and American Tower. SpaceMobile's profile rose several months later when AT&T said it was considering a deal with the company. And at the end of 2020, SpaceMobile confirmed it reached a "binding memorandum of understanding" with AT&T alongside plans to go public through a "special purpose acquisition" while raising $230 million.

SpaceMobile expects its "special purpose" transaction to close in the first quarter of this year. The company said it will begin offering commercial service in 2023 across 49 equatorial countries.

But Lynk – highlighted by Light Reading in 2019 when it was called UbiquitiLink – plans to beat SpaceMobile to the punch. According to a report in SpaceNews, company officials said Lynk will start testing cellular services with its first small satellite in the near future as a prelude to a commercial launch next year.

However, the company is only promising "intermittent coverage."

"With our initial commercial constellation, you'll get connectivity every 5 to 20 minutes, depending on where you are on the planet. There are a lot of use cases where you can make money with that kind of connectivity," said Margo Deckard, co-founder and chief operating officer of Lynk, according to the publication.

Lynk eventually plans to operate a constellation of around 1,000 satellites in orbits of around 280 miles to 310 miles above the Earth.

Like SpaceMobile, Lynk is hoping to sell access to its satellites to mobile network operators looking to fill in their coverage gaps. The company has so far tested its services with Smith Bagley, a tiny wireless network operator offering services under the Cellular One brand in East Arizona, as well as other, unnamed operators.

Lynk and SpaceMobile are offering a unique twist on the burgeoning market for space-borne Internet. Rather than beaming connections to specialized receivers like Iridium or SpaceX's Starlink, the companies hope to transmit their signals in cellular network operators' licensed spectrum holdings directly to users' existing cellular phones. Such a setup could potentially eliminate cellular providers' dead zones.

Lynk hasn't disclosed its financial goals, but SpaceMobile has said it expects total revenues of $9.7 billion by 2027.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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