“2023 saw announcements from several satellite operators offering direct-to-device messaging connectivity, which was a welcome evolution from the recent focus on new fixed broadband satellite services from companies like Starlink. One of the most significant announcements was from Apple and Globalstar, which joined forces to offer direct-to-device connectivity on the iPhone 14, but even this had shortcomings. Another notable development was the failure of Qualcomm and Iridium’s partnership due to a lack of interest by handset vendors, which prefer solutions based on 3GPP standards.
“Current satellite infrastructure is simply not cost-effective when supporting the high-bandwidth connectivity needed for the data services we are accustomed to on our 4G or 5G phones. Consequently, providers like Globalstar are focusing on messaging and emergency voice services and, in most cases, are basing these services on non-standard protocols, which don’t integrate with the current terrestrial cellular ecosystem.
“However, I believe this will begin to change in 2024, with satellite operators starting to shift their focus from messaging to the deployment of a standards-based 5G NTN with ‘enhanced mobile broadband services’ for a range of use cases, including direct-to-handset. I expect to see announcements from satellite operators on the deployment of new LEO constellations based on 5G NR NTN standards, with a focus on providing global coverage for consumer direct-to-handset and home broadband services. These LEO constellations will be much closer to Earth and enable better connectivity between satellites and handsets, making direct-to-device satellite connectivity a reality. I also expect to see major handset companies announce support for 5G NR NTN services in their flagship devices. Apple has traditionally been first off the blocks in adopting new use cases, but the jury is out on whether they will take the lead on this.”
Incumbent broadband satellite operators adopt 5G NTN standards to fight off new entrants
“The next generation of 5G NTNs will support the higher frequencies currently being used by Starlink and Amazon Kuiper for the delivery of low-cost broadband services. In 2024, I expect some of the incumbent operators with high-throughput GEO constellations that are facing stiff competition to react quickly and adopt the 5G NTN standard to replace their current DVB-S2X-based solutions.
“This will enable them to integrate seamlessly with terrestrial networks, open new use cases and tap into the larger low-cost standards-based device ecosystem. It will also give them an edge over the vertically integrated new entrants, which depend on closed, bespoke solutions.”
Greater collaboration between terrestrial and non-terrestrial operators
“2024 will see further partnerships between terrestrial network providers, which own most of the desirable spectrum and have access to a very large subscriber base, and non-terrestrial providers. Together, these joint ventures will work to tackle rural and remote black spots that terrestrial networks struggle to connect alone and will open new use cases like connected cars and industrial IoT.
“To achieve this collaboration, satellite providers will move away from proprietary technology to fully support 3GPP standards, which is a crucial piece of the puzzle as we evolve towards the universal communications expected from 6G.”