As the pace of growth of the satellite communications market becomes almost literally rocket-fuelled, Viasat has become the latest global comms firm to up its ante in the sector, forging a partnership with non-terrestrial network (NTN) service provider Skylo Technologies for the launch of what they have claimed will be the world’s first global direct-to-device (D2D) network.
The global infrastructure agreement will for the first time, according to the companies, allow mobile network operators (MNOs), device makers and chipset manufacturers to take products compliant with the 3GPP Release-17 wireless standard to market within Viasat’s global network coverage. It will combine Skylo’s Release-17-based satellite technology with Viasat’s geostationary, L-band satellite constellation and licensed spectrum holdings through its subsidiary, Inmarsat, as well as those of other satellite operator partners.
The net result is that the new network will support consumer smartphone services and look to unlock the potential for satellite-based internet of things (IoT), automotive and defence applications.
L-band is regarded for its reliability and is trusted by governments to deliver mission-critical data, allowing the D2D network to be capable of delivering data to serve the needs of businesses, governments and out-of-reach consumers. Viasat’s geostationary licensed L-band network is also said to be suited for delivering D2D services, and will not require the use of terrestrial spectrum or global regulatory changes or approvals.
The two companies said the combination of the network with MNO and chipset manufacturer collaboration will provide new opportunities for original equipment manufacturers that wish to embed connectivity into their smartphones, wearables, vehicles, machinery and other devices. They also believe IoT service providers stand to gain access to ubiquitous connectivity and economical hardware to scale their offerings globally.
Looking at use cases, Viasat and Skylo pointed to food producers, miners and logistics businesses that stand to gain access to enhanced connectivity experiences, through cellular or satellite, without the need for proprietary satellite hardware, reducing user costs and contributing to the optimisation and sustainability of global production and supply chains.
Initial deployments are planned for early 2024 in North America, using the Ligado SkyTerra satellite network, followed by a global roll-out. Partners and customers will be able to access the services through Viasat or Skylo.
Viasat said the agreement with Skylo marks a pivotal point for global connectivity. “There is now the framework for a global narrowband non-terrestrial network with unique levels of resilience, that can support the innovation of MNOs, chipset manufacturers, OEMs and IoT solution providers, as they come together and build next-generation solutions for businesses, governments and consumers,” said Andy Kessler, vice-president of enterprise and land mobile at Viasat.
“The global production and supply chain will now gain access to data from the remotest edge, where it is often-most valuable, with the same level of effort as they would in a city connected by cellular 5G.”
Skylo CPO and co-founder Tarun Gupta added: “This collaboration with Viasat represents an inflection point in the evolution of connectivity. By merging our groundbreaking 85+ patents and 3GPP Release-17-based satellite technology with Viasat’s extensive geostationary network, spectrum capabilities and partnerships, we are unlocking a world of unprecedented connectivity.
“This network is not just a technological breakthrough; it’s a catalyst for inclusive, global innovation – bringing high-quality, affordable connectivity to every corner of the planet, revolutionising industries from agriculture to transportation, and enhancing lives in both urban and remote communities.”