02 Nov 2023

UK SPF Cluster 1 Event Round-up: Connectivity from the Sky

On 01 November, UK SPF Cluster 1 hosted the second edition of the Connectivity from the Sky workshop. It gathered members from the industry to discuss their views on current and future perspectives around direct-to-device connectivity.  

After a very successful first edition, UK SPF Cluster 1 delivered an update on the topic. With presentations from Access Partnership, Telesat, Lynk, and PolicyTracker the panel session promoted an exciting debate around the capability of new technologies and the road ahead.  

The economic and regulatory aspects of direct-to-handset connectivity 

The workshop kicked off with a presentation from Access Partnership on their Direct-to-Device (D2D) whitepaper. The objective of their study is to quantitively identify areas of the world that are disconnected and the possible benefits of deploying direct-to-handset services.

Evaluating the economic impact, the market will grow though time over embryonic, growth and mature phases. The embryonic phase is marked by niche uses. As it grows there will be more deployment into other markets and other customers. The maturity phase will define seamless integration of terrestrial and non-terrestrial coverage. 

There are a few regulatory challenges for D2D rollout. Considerations around interference, cross-border coordination, sharing mechanisms, and bandwidth need to be taken into account before users can seamlessly transition from terrestrial to non-terrestrial coverage. This level of efficiency will require coordination in the use of spectrum and sharing mechanisms, along with new spectrum allocations.  

On the technical side, there are questions around the need for D2D in dense well-connected urban areas. Urban users who leave terrestrial coverage and want seamless connectivity, or urban areas where there is no terrestrial coverage would benefit from the technology. Since not all urban areas are well-connected, there is a significant global market opportunity for companies. 

Satellite operators perspective 

Telesat discussed its position in the global market, presenting a sometimes-forgotten satellite connectivity solution. Telesat is a satellite operator in the process of launching its constellation of LEO satellites for global connectivity.  

Focused on enterprise and government markets, Telesat’s Lightspeed constellation already began service testing. By 2026, more satellites will be launched and field trials will take place. By 2027, global service begins.

This constellation will allow for beamswitching/beamhopping to help manage resources and is projected to endure make before break connectivity, as soon as 156 satellites and a full global service is live. 

On another side, Lynk is a 'cell tower in space' company and their key customers are the mobile operators. Lynk's satellites support all broadband generations, along with NB-IoT devices, delivering connectivity to handsets in the same way as a terrestrial mobile base station.  

One of the key components is the effort to deliver connectivity with no changes to end user devices, including backward compatibility, nor to the network for integration with MNOs. Currently, Lynk’s geographic focus is on large countries with disconnected zones or islands, e.g., New Zealand.  

The advantages to existing services delivered by MNOs are to expand coverage, increasing market share and resiliency for its network. The initial service currently delivers SMS, mass notifications and IP messaging. Lynk expects to have seamless services by 2024, and broadband data and video from 2026 onwards. 

NTN challenges and panel questions

Considering the general scope of non-terrestrial networks, PolicyTracker offered a perspective on HAPS (and HIBs) as well as D2D. Although spectrum has been assigned for this type of technology since the World Radiocommunication Conferences 2000, commercial deployment still hasn’t achieved the stage of maturity. With spectrum and technology already at a relative developed state commercial success relies on the adoption of the correct use case.  

  • 5G coverage for hard-to-reach areas. 

  • Emergency communications for natural disasters. 

  • Private networks. 

On the D2D side, both the ‘mainstream approach’ – employed by Apple-Globalstar, Iridium, and Omnispace – and the alternate approach from Lynk, AST, and Starlink, still faces substantial challenges before the technology achieves its full potential. Either through traditional MSS spectrum licences or by re-using terrestrial spectrum, international discussions are still due to arrive at a framework that contemplates the concerns of national regulatory agencies and companies’ interests.  

During the panel discussion, some key questions were raised: 

  • How will future demand for spectrum be impacted by space connectivity? 

  • Is there any plan in place for spectrum sharing options? 

  • What is the state of the market for future handheld devices as relates to different MNO functions?

  • Is rail connectivity a useful application of space connectivity?

In the end, panellists were requested to present a few predictions for the outcome of WRC for D2D and HAPS/HIBS.


If you have any questions, please contact the team below. 

Sophie Greaves

Sophie Greaves

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Sophie Greaves is Head of Programme for Communications Infrastructure and Services at techUK, and oversees the UK Spectrum Policy Forum.

Sophie was promoted to Head having been Programme Manager for Communications Infrastructure and Services, leading techUK's telecoms activities, engagement and policy development. Previously, Sophie was Programme Assistant across a variety of areas including the Broadband Stakeholder Group, Central Government, Financial Services and Communications Infrastructure programmes.

Prior to joining techUK, Sophie completed a masters in Film Studies at University College London; her dissertation examined US telecoms policy relating to net neutrality and content distribution.

[email protected]
020 7331 2038

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Tales Gaspar

Tales Gaspar

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Tales has a background in law and economics, with previous experience in the regulation of new technologies and infrastructure.

In the UK and Europe, he offered consultancy on intellectual property rights of cellular and IoT technologies and on the regulatory procedures at the ITU as a Global Fellow at the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI).

Tales has an LL.M in Law and Business by the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) and an MSc in Regulation at the London School of Economics, with a specialization in Government and Law.

[email protected]
+44 (0) 0207 331 2000

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Matthew Wild

Programme Assistant - Markets, techUK

Matthew joined techUK in August 2023 as a Programme Assistant, supporting the Communications Infrastructure programme, as well as the Digital Connectivity and Spectrum Policy Fora.

Before joining techUK, Matthew worked in marketing, data, and events across a number of sectors, including education and consumer goods. He studied German and Dutch at University College London and the Universiteit van Amsterdam.

[email protected]
020 7331 2000

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