Inmarsat and MediaTek explore commercial direct-to-satellite solutions

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Satellite operator Inmarsat is ramping up efforts to capitalise on the direct-to-device (D2D) comms hype.

Together with Taiwanese chip maker MediaTek, Inmarsat has spent the last few years exploring the potential of using its Elera L-band constellation to deliver two-way connectivity to smartphones, IoT devices and cars – among others – that incorporate MediaTek’s 5G non-terrestrial network (NTN) tech. Inmarsat said its solutions are already being trialled by both network operators and device makers.

On Wednesday, the two companies expanded their partnership, signing a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that covers joint technology innovation and – perhaps more importantly – the commercial deployment of satellite-enabled devices.

This is significant because unlike a lot of other companies that want a piece of the D2D comms action, Inmarsat’s satellites are already in orbit and operational. This gives them a head-start on the likes of SpaceX’s Starlink, for example, which will only be able to support commercial D2D services from late 2024.

From MediaTek’s point of view, having a partner that already offers global network coverage could give it valuable momentum with OEMs, helping it to maintain pressure on rival Qualcomm, which also has eyes on the 5G NTN market with its Snapdragon Satellite chipset.

“With MediaTek, we can offer smartphone companies and others a fast and consumer friendly path to satellite-to-device capability that allows two-way communications and does not require complex ‘aiming’ of the device,” said Jat Brainch, Inmarsat’s chief commercial and digital officer, in a press release.

“MediaTek’s growing partnership with Inmarsat opens up new possibilities for the convergence of cellular and satellite networks,” added JC Hsu, corporate vice president of MediaTek. “MediaTek is a leading solution provider and contributor to 3GPP NTN standards, and our ongoing work with Inmarsat GEO satellites will help drive 5G innovation across multiple markets, including smartphones.”

Until now, the L-band has been used for GPS and corporate customers operating in remote areas. It is particularly useful for maritime and aircraft communications due to its broad coverage and ability to perform well in bad weather. However, it uses a fairly narrow band of frequencies in the 1-2-GHz range, limiting maximum throughput.

Nevertheless, Inmarsat and MediaTek are confident it can play an important role in the D2D market.

“Our network holds real potential to support a revolution in direct-to-device, IoT and car connectivity and we are delighted to be partnering with MediaTek, a recognised world-leading innovator in 5G NTN technology. The combination of our joint capabilities can bring rapid access to 5G satellite services for consumer and professional users, and the wider 5G ecosystem across the world,” said Brainch.

“The unique qualities of Inmarsat’s narrowband satellite network and the spectrum capacity they have available will be able to support a multitude of new devices and services,” added Hsu.

At the moment, there is but a small trickle of devices that support D2D services, but that is expected to turn into a flood as the technology matures, driven by partnerships like Inmarsat-MediaTek.


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