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Satellite

Lynk, SpaceMobile race for approvals, satellite launches

The two startups racing to connect regular smartphones to satellites in cellular dead zones are each boasting of their respective market progress. But so far, neither is offering commercial services.

That may soon change, though, as both Lynk Global and AST SpaceMobile tout advancements.

"As we ready Blue Walker 3 for its plan launched this summer and prepare the company for full scale manufacturing, we are confident in the ability of our amazing team to execute our plans and deliver our game changing technology," boasted AST SpaceMobile CFO Tom Severson during the company's quarterly conference call this week, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

Broadly, AST SpaceMobile reported increased quarterly spending as it works to build and launch satellites that it hopes to use to keep out-of-coverage mobile users connected. Specifically, AST SpaceMobile recently announced that it would spend $23 million with SpaceX to launch its satellites, including one this summer, in a shift away from Russian satellite-launch companies.

Separately, AST SpaceMobile also crowed of its recent memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Orange to test satellite-based mobile services. Orange joins the likes of Vodafone, AT&T and Rakuten in working with AST SpaceMobile.

However, AST SpaceMobile is still working to finalize several parts of its broad plan. For example, the company still has not received FCC approvals to operate its new satellite in the US. "We believe the FCC will come through on time for our summer launch," AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan explained. "However, if it's necessary, we don't think that will be necessary, but if it's necessary, we can start testing outside the United States. And we do not think that the FCC is a prerequisite for our summer launch."

Lynk, meanwhile, celebrated the successful launch of its sixth satellite on Friday. Lynk CEO Charles Miller said that the company has FCC approvals to test services from all of its satellites, including the one launched Friday.

But Lynk hasn't linked up with the kind of high-profile operators that AST SpaceMobile has, at least not yet. So far, Lynk has announced commercial contracts with operators like Telikom PNG in Papua New Guinea and bmobile in the Solomon Islands.

Lynk expects to begin offering commercial services later this year – putting the company ahead of AST SpaceMobile on that score. Whether that will help Lynk land contracts with bigger operators remains to be seen.

Broadly, both Lynk and AST SpaceMobile operate under the same business model: They both hope to sell connections from their satellites to terrestrial mobile network operators. Thus, they'll basically act like mobile network roaming partners – when covered customers stray into cellular dead zones, they'll have the option to purchase access to a Lynk or AST SpaceMobile satellite to remain connected. That could prove to be a critical service in backcountry emergencies.

"We believe that our service is going to be indispensable," said Avellan of AST SpaceMobile.

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

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