SpaceX competitor Lynk testing 5G cell phone service from space

5G network visualized as connected lines flowing from earth into space
The competition for 5G is getting fierce between companies vying to get their customers in remote areas swift access to space-based internet. (Image credit: Andriy Onufriyenko via Getty Images)

The rivalry for fast internet from space just entered a new stage.

Lynk, a competitor to the much larger SpaceX, plans to offer an experimental 5G cellular base station aboard a mission in December, working alongside an undisclosed cellular partner. The experimental payload will launch on Lynk's second commercial satellite, company officials said.

"This test will demonstrate the ability to send a 5G signal from space to standard mobile devices on Earth," Lynk officials wrote (opens in new tab) in late September. 

The test is a shot across the bow to SpaceX, which has already signed a deal with T-Mobile for cellular service but, unlike Lynk, does not yet have Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval. Lynk received the prized FCC thumbs-up just a few weeks ago.

Related: Starlink service endangered by proposed 5G plan, SpaceX says

Lynk and SpaceX are jostling for market access to people living in rural areas who lack access to standard internet service. SpaceX has a fleet of thousands of Starlink satellites through which it plans to beam 5G broadband internet service, while Lynk has an emergency access plan through an orbital cell tower.

Lynk already tested a satellite-to-phone service link last year, according to Via Satellite (opens in new tab), and is ramping up service fast in a bid to keep ahead of the competition. "We are actively testing satellite-direct-to-phone-services in 12 countries on five continents," Dan Dooley, chief commercial officer of Lynk, said in the same company statement.

The company's patent allows the orbiting cell tower to link up with standard 5G devices in 55 countries, Lynk says. 

5G service is a next-generation speed boost in cellular access that offers better network speeds to support the Internet of things, or the growing fleet of connected devices in industries ranging from shipping to consumer appliances. 

Lynk already offers software-designed radios that can move between slower, but still viable, 2G and 4G speeds for the mobile network operators it is trying to attract as customers. SpaceX, meanwhile, recently complained to the FCC about plans to open up the prized 12 gigahertz band to another 5G competitor, Dish, arguing that using the frequency would interfere with existing communications upon Starlink satellites.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace