Advanced Television

US outlines satellite phone framework

February 26, 2024

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published its proposed framework which could allow satellite operators to use spectrum from terrestrial cellular businesses for their smartphone connections, and when beyond the reach of conventional mobile towers.

Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC chair, says the final draft of rules have been sent to the regulator’s other four Commissioners that, if adopted, would pave the way for direct-to-smartphone services in the US. The Commissioners will vote on March 14th for the proposal.

The key proposal would allow the likes of Starlink/T-Mobile and AST Space Mobile/AT&T to offer a satellite-based service to their customers when out of range of cell-towers.

The proposal (officially called ‘Supplemental Coverage from Space’) says the FCC seeks to establish clear and transparent processes to support supplemental coverage from space. “Connecting consumers to essential wireless services where traditional terrestrial mobile service is not available can be life-saving in remote locations and can open up innovative opportunities for consumers and businesses.”

“A single network future is possible,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “By taking advantage of satellite connectivity, we can enhance our smartphones and get rid of ‘dead zones.’ This groundbreaking framework will ensure continued US leadership and establish a clear and predictable regulatory approach to these partnerships in support of innovation and competition.”

If adopted, this framework allows satellite operators collaborating with terrestrial service providers to seek FCC authorisation to operate space stations on certain licensed, flexible-use spectrum currently allocated to terrestrial services, provided they satisfy certain licensing prerequisites—including having a spectrum lease from a terrestrial licensee within a specified geographic area. Once authorised, a satellite operator could then serve a wireless provider’s customers should they need connectivity outside of coverage areas.

One element of the proposal being welcomed is that the FCC has removed a requirement that any leased spectrum be national and cover the entire country. It seems that the FCC could allow regional and specific geographic areas.

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