FCC proposes satellite-phone rules to eliminate ‘no signal’ once and for all

FCC proposes satellite-phone rules to eliminate ‘no signal’ once and for all

FCC proposes satellite-phone rules to eliminate 'no signal' once and for all

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The FCC has officially proposed, and voted unanimously to go forward, a framework in which satellites can communicate directly with smartphones in a structured and useful way.


The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, released earlier this month and formally voted on today, is essentially a comprehensive first public draft of what the FCC hopes to accomplish by establishing rules and guidelines around this new area of communication.

Apple has already made headlines with a spectacular rescue made possible by its new emergency satellite feature, and companies like Lynk and AST SpaceMobile are working to provide universally accessible two-way data anywhere in the world. T-Mobile and SpaceX have said they plan to test their own Starlink-based system this year, and many others are looking to join the fray.

It remains to be seen how this spatial connectivity would integrate with existing systems. Our mobile networks operate on very carefully defined frequencies so that phones and towers do not interfere with each other; including satellites that have totally different frequencies and signal strengths is no small feat.

“The FCC seeks to establish clear and transparent processes to support additional coverage from space,” the agency wrote in a press release. “Satellite operators working with terrestrial service providers could get FCC
authorization to operate space stations on certain flexible use spectrum currently licensed and allocated to terrestrial services.

As it is proposed, a satellite operator would essentially work with a terrestrial provider to adjust the phone’s settings so that when no ordinary signal is available, it officially switches to a satellite signal. What is important here is to ensure there is a process to follow, providing structure and accountability. We can’t have pirate satellites blasting devices with no signal with ads for instant connectivity, can we? (Although we probably will eventually.)

The FCC’s four sitting commissioners (the fifth would have been Gigi Sohn if her confirmation hadn’t been stalled indefinitely) all agreed it was a good start — but they should be ready to act if circumstances change. .

“The framework we are proposing is the first of its kind in the world. We will lead,” President Jessica Rosenworcel said in her statement accompanying the vote. “By providing clear rules, I believe we can kick-start more innovations in the space economy while expanding wireless coverage in remote, unserved and underserved areas. We can make mobile dead zones a thing of the past. pass.

“The article we are adopting today recognizes that consumers do not care whether the signal was transmitted to their device from a tower on top of an office building or from a satellite orbiting the Earth. . They only care about having access to an affordable, high-quality connection,” added Commissioner Brendan Carr.

Commissioner Simington also agreed, but with the caveat that the industries in question need to experiment and weigh in for the framework to properly scale and adapt to rapidly changing technology.

“Building a framework that works for every conceivable business arrangement and every technology is no easy task and risks slowing progress as we work towards new rules,” Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said. “To address this concern, NPRM is smartly offering a narrow set of initial entry criteria so that we can move full speed ahead on proposals that pose the fewest technical challenges, while soliciting feedback on how we might one day broaden the scope.”

He and Simington agreed that it’s important to note that the rules do not prohibit innovations that may not exactly match those initial parameters.

Rosenworcel added that, managed properly, this could be the start of a true multimodal framework for wireless communication, less focused on the nature of the infrastructure itself and more on what it accomplishes.

“We have an opportunity to take our spectrum policies to the future and move beyond binary choices between mobile spectrum on the one hand or satellite spectrum on the other,” she said. “It means we can reshape old debates about access to radio waves and develop new ways to make the most of our spectrum resources. It’s exciting, so let’s go.


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