For years, I have told people that cell phones cannot be served by satellites for two reasons:
First, the signals from satellites are too weak for cell phones to receive, and signals from cell phones are too weak for satellites to receive.
Second, the inability of satellites to confine their signal coverage to a small area the way a ground-based tower does makes frequency reuse in reasonably sized geographic areas impossible.
“The issue of signal spread can now be addressed with encryption,” Ernest Worthman, the executive editor of Applied Wireless Technology, told me. “Also, receiver front-end sensitivity has improved significantly over the years. That helps solve the weak signal issue, plus they are closer to Earth, anyway.”
Whether the current technology of low-Earth-orbit satellites overcomes the hurdles for serving cell phones, it apparently works well for providing wireless internet service. Worthman said that there is some talk that the satellites may carry voice communications from smartphones.
UbiquitiLink, a Falls Church, Virginia, company, has plans to orbit thousands of satellites that will be able to connect with stock smartphones. Sometimes the connection will support only low-data-rate text messages, and sometimes, perhaps voice. The company expects to have 24 to 36 satellites in orbit in 2021 that will provide connectivity at least once every hour, according to information published by the company.
According to a Bloomberg report by Todd Shields, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies plans to launch 11,943 satellites into orbit for its Starlink fleet, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon plans to launch 3,236 internet-beaming satellites into low-Earth orbit. Already, 1,338 satellites occupy the low-Earth orbital space.
By the way, many astronomers whose instruments use both light and radio waves to make observations have concerns that sunlight reflections and radio emissions from the planned thousands of low-Earth-orbit satellites will interfere with their work, perhaps in substantial ways.
“We will have to learn how to operate our electronics to detect weak cosmic signals in the presence of satellite signals at other frequencies that will be millions of times stronger,” Harvey Liszt, spectrum manager with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, told Bloomberg’s Shields. A statement from the International Astronomical Union said the sunlight reflections can be detrimental to the sensitive capabilities of large ground-based astronomical telescopes.
Outer space is not the empty place the early astronauts explored, anymore.