Advanced Television

Starlink: 3m users, but facing major D2D problems

May 21, 2024

Elon Musk congratulated his staff and SpaceX technicians on May 20th for topping 3 million Starlink customers in 99 countries. But behind the scenes there could be serious problems ahead for Starlink, and in particular for its ‘direct-to-smartphone’ ambitions.

The background focuses on recent transmissions carried out on a UK-registered satellite by SpaceX. The satellite (ICO-F2) was launched by ICO Global Communications back in June 2001. The satellite was intended to be part of a 12-satellite constellation which would have provided voice, internet and data services over the planet. ICO went bust and emerged from its bankruptcy as Pendrell Corp.

Crucially, ICO-F2 uses some of the same frequencies as SpaceX. ICO-F2 operates at a much higher altitude (10,500 kms) than SpaceX satellites (600 kms).

The satellite was bought by Omnispace in 2012. Omnispace is a business with its own objectives being the supply of a 5G-type global satellite communication system. Omnispace has some heavyweight expertise on its management team and board of directors.

Omnispace now alleges that SpaceX tests have harmfully interfered with OMNI-F2. Omnispace claims that it has “empirical evidence” of interference by SpaceX, and that SpaceX’s transmissions would mean that the interference was such that “service cannot be provided”. “SpaceX’s operations violate the terms of its experimental authorisation and must cease […] SpaceX again disregarded Omnispace’s requests for information about SpaceX’s test plans.”

“The Omni-F2 MEO satellite at 10,500-kilometer altitude was located more than 17,000 kilometers from the SpaceX test satellite at the time of the observations,” states Omnispace.

Omnispace supplied detailed signal measurement charts to the FCC as a result of its observations made in January 2024.

Omnispace argued to the FCC on May 17th: “If SpaceX’s Direct-to-[device] service were ever to be deployed at scale, the aggregate interference from hundreds of DTC satellites visible to MSS LEOs would be hundreds of times greater than the levels seen in this test and would render the band unusable by other MSS operators over large portions of the globe,” says Omnispace.

SpaceX has responded and on the same day asked: “Could Omnispace also place on the public record evidence of its actual service and service interruption? SpaceX has been unable to find any evidence that Omnispace provides service to date.” SpaceX has also volunteered to coordinate its transmissions to obviate any risk of interference.

This is a dig at Omnispace because there are no actual services beamed from OMNI-F2, and therefore by implication how could there be interference?

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