OQ Technology, a global satellite narrowband IoT connectivity operator, has signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for a feasibility study concerning Direct-to-Cell connectivity. Dubbed as MACSAT 2.0, the contract receives backing from the Luxembourg government under the LuxImpulse programme, aimed at propelling Luxembourg and European space endeavours through the national space initiative.
The recently initiated project sets out to explore the enhancement of OQ’s current satellite 5G NB-IoT RAN NTN technology and payload, originally conceived under the MACSAT project, to enable direct connectivity to mobile phones. This upgrade seeks to facilitate messaging and voice services employing standard, unmodified phones. While OQ’s existing technology permits direct connections to IoT devices and machines from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) across the globe, the endeavour to link directly to phones poses challenges related to link budget and Doppler effects, particularly with wider bandwidths.
The comprehensive study will delve into various facets, including system requirements, upgrades to OQ’s MACSAT RAN software stack and RF front end, platform enhancements, mission analysis, antenna technology, and vendor selection for the prospective system. An integral aspect of the study involves identifying new standard direct-to-device frequency bands compatible with existing devices and modules.
OQ Technology marked a significant milestone with the successful launch of the MACSAT 1.0 satellite on October 8, 2023, aboard a Vega rocket (mission VV23) from French Guinea. Having traversed the Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP) successfully, the satellite is currently undergoing handover to OQ’s Luxembourg operations centre for in-orbit commissioning of the NB-IoT payload. Building on the achievements of MACSAT, the company is strategically advancing along its technology roadmap to embrace the future by enhancing its services with advanced 5G Direct-to-Cell technology.
The direct-to-cell connectivity market has witnessed a surge in activity lately, with numerous US entities vying to offer this innovative service, including SpaceX with Starlink 2.0, Lynk, AST Mobile, and more recently, Iridium. Smartphone manufacturers have also begun introducing phones capable of direct satellite connections, exemplified by Apple. Positioned as a leading European entity in the realm of standard cellular connectivity to LEO satellites, OQ Technology is poised to make substantial strides in this dynamic landscape.
Omar Qaise, Founder and CEO at OQ Technology, said: “The direct-to-cellular market is estimated to be about $1tn market and is growing rapidly, we believe this is the new killer app in the world of satellite communication, and as OQ Technology has been a pioneer in narrowband 5G IoT satellite connectivity when we looked into it back in 2016 and successfully demonstrated the technology in orbit, we are eyeing now the future of direct cellular connectivity to mobile phones – We are grateful to Luxembourg Space Agency and the European Space Agency for their vision and great continuous support to OQ.”