SES mulls directly portable 5G satellite business

TAMPA, Fla. — SES plans to deliver 5G services directly to portable devices after reclaiming spectrum rights from 62 proposed satellites that were set to expire.

The Luxembourg government filed an application in 2015 with international regulators ITU for the constellation, dubbed Cleosat, but risked losing it until SES used at least one of its satellites to secure the frequencies on May 10, two days before the deadline.

Luxembourg had launched a call for proposals from companies interested in the project on December 16 as its seven-year deadline approached, and chose SES earlier this year to operate Cleosat.

“SES has filed an application with the Luxembourg government because we recognize the potential for direct-to-mobile 5G satellite connectivity in the years to come,” SES Vice President of External Communications Suzanne Ong said in an email.

“We have not made any decisions to invest significantly in this technology at this stage, and will be doing our due diligence in the coming months to assess the market and business plans.”

The company did not release further information about the plans, and the Luxembourg government did not speak in detail about what it has in store.

When Luxembourg appealed to companies wanting to vet Cleosat’s regulatory filing in December, it said the services it planned for the network were global and included mobile satellite services, fixed satellite services and tracking and remote control.

The proposed Cleosat constellation uses multiple frequency bands from around 1.5 GHz to 29 GHz, covering 62 satellites in eight planes in non-geostationary orbits between 519 and 8,062 kilometers.

SES’ O3b Networks constellation, made up of 20 satellites in medium Earth orbit, operates 8,063 kilometers above the equator, using frequencies from 17 to 19 GHz for high-speed broadband services aimed primarily at businesses and governments. The company also operates satellites in geostationary orbit for broadband and broadcast.

It’s unclear whether SES is looking at ways to provide connectivity to smartphones and consumer devices, like companies that satellite startups AST SpaceMobile and Link Global are developing.

Satellite networks in general are expected to become more compatible with terrestrial wireless infrastructure as 3GPP, the mobile industry association, strives to incorporate satellite frequencies into global 5G standards for the first time.

Satellite operators hope these standardization efforts will mean that backhaul and other space-based capabilities can be more easily integrated into terrestrial networks, allowing them to capture a larger share of the telecommunications market.

Globalstar continues to face speculation that its satellites could be used to connect Apple iPhones for emergency services.

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