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17 Mar, 2023
2 min time to read

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has unanimously voted to propose a framework enabling satellites to communicate directly with smartphones in a structured and practical manner.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which provides a complete first public draft of its plan to establish guidelines and regulations around space-based communication. This new field of communication has gained significant attention from tech giants like Apple, Qualcomm, and SpaceX, who are actively developing technologies to provide universally accessible two-way data anywhere in the world.

Apple has recently made the news with its new emergency satellite feature, which helped facilitate a dramatic rescue. Companies like Lynk and AST SpaceMobile are working to provide universally accessible two-way data anywhere in the world. Qualcomm and Iridium are integrating the capability at the chipset level, while T-Mobile and SpaceX have announced plans to test their own Starlink-based system later this year. Many other companies are looking to enter this field as well.

Despite these exciting advancements, the matter of how space-based connectivity will integrate with existing systems still needs to be addressed. Mobile networks currently run on carefully defined frequencies to prevent interference between phones and towers. However, satellites use different frequencies and signal powers, making integration with existing systems a challenging matter.

In its recent news release, the FCC indicated that it seeks to establish clear and transparent processes to support supplemental coverage from space. The proposed framework allows satellite operators to collaborate with terrestrial service providers and obtain authorization to operate space stations on currently licensed, flexible-use spectrum allocated to terrestrial services.

Under this framework, a satellite operator would work with a terrestrial provider to adjust a phone's settings to switch over to a satellite signal when no ordinary signal is available. It is essential to ensure that a clear process is in place to provide structure and accountability, preventing pirate satellites from transmitting unauthorized ads to no-signal devices.

The four sitting FCC Commissioners, including Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, have expressed their support for this proposed framework. They believe it could lead to more innovation in the space economy, while expanding wireless coverage in remote, unserved, and underserved areas. Rosenworcel emphasized the potential of this new framework to reshape the airwave access debates of old, by bringing spectrum policies into the future and developing new ways to get more out of spectrum resources.

Commissioner Brendan Carr concurred with this view, stating that consumers do not care whether the signal was beamed to their device from a tower on top of an office building or from a satellite orbiting the Earth. They only care that they have access to an affordable, high-quality connection.

Commissioner Simington approved of the proposed framework, with the reservation that the industries in question need to experiment and provide feedback for the framework to evolve and accommodate fast-moving tech. Commissioner Geoffrey Starks also approved the proposed framework, emphasizing the importance of initial entry criteria and seeking comment on how the framework could be broadened in the future.

In conclusion, the FCC's proposed framework for space-based communication provides an exciting opportunity for more innovation in the space economy and expanding wireless coverage in remote areas. It is essential to establish clear and transparent processes to provide structure and accountability, while also accommodating future technological advancements.