Satellite players form MSSA to advance D2D ecosystem

Along with everything else, folks at Mobile World Congress 2024 will be talking about ways to advance the direct-to-device (D2D) ecosystem, and the Mobile Satellite Services Association (MSSA) will be happy to facilitate those conversations.

Formally unveiled on February 9, MSSA’s founding members are Viasat, Terrestar Solutions, Ligado Networks, Omnispace and Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat).

Combined, they represent more than 100 megahertz of L- and S-band spectrum that’s already been allocated and licensed for a range of services. And since they’re going to need mobile phone manufacturers, chipset vendors, government stakeholders, mobile operators and more to form an ecosystem, they figured now’s a good time to announce themselves ahead of MWC 2024.

Make no mistake, plenty of D2D efforts already are underway across the industry. A big one is T-Mobile with SpaceX, where they plan to use T-Mobile’s PCS spectrum to provide a messaging service for hikers and other people in remote areas. So far, that’s in a test phase but T-Mobile executives have said they expect to have it in customers’ hands this year if things go well with the beta.  

That’s using terrestrial spectrum. Satellite spectrum holders have a collective interest in using their spectrum for these D2D services, according to Mark Dankberg, chairman of MSSA and chairman and CEO of Viasat.

He noted some good reasons not to use spectrum licensed to wireless carriers for this application. For example, it takes terrestrial spectrum out of commission for the traditional purposes it serves and “you probably don’t want to inhibit the primary mode,” he said.

The L- and S-bands are roughly in the 1.5-2.5 GHz range, and because they’re so close to existing wireless spectrum, that makes them attractive for D2D, he said, adding that the propagation characteristics are good and the wavelengths are well suited for the antennas.

“If we can create a big market that’s affordable, convenient to use [and] accepted by many countries, all those things are positives,” he said.

3GPP standards to extend coverage

MSSA said it plans to align with 3GPP standards to extend terrestrial mobile coverage for both mobile network operator and over-the-top internet services.

Taking a standards-based approach is important. One of the reasons Qualcomm cited in severing its D2D partnership with Iridium was the preference on the part of smartphone OEMs for a standards-based solution versus the proprietary one that Iridium was hawking. Iridium has since shifted to a D2D strategy based on 3GPP 5G standards.

The 3GPP Releases 17 and 18 have provisions for geosynchronous and non-geosynchronous satellites, so both GEO and LEO satellites can be used and interoperable from a device perspective, Dankberg said.

Among the MSSA’s goals are working with governments around the world to create a framework where individual nations can participate in the new space economy via open standards and architectures and the space networks that are supported by MSSA.

It could take a long time to pull together this ecosystem, but the idea is to get the ball rolling. To wit: They’re setting up face-to-face meetings at MWC 2024 in Barcelona later this month.

“We want to build a broad ecosystem,” he said, and having shared interests accelerates the time to market for everybody. “We want to build broad awareness and we also want feedback from all these other members of the ecosystem.”

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