Mobile telcos are targeting satellite services to eliminate blackspots and deliver better emergency coverage.
Telco One New Zealand today launched a collaboration with Elon Musk's SpaceX service to provide total country-wide mobile coverage.
From late 2024, One New Zealand's network will work with SpaceX’s constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit to deliver "direct to cell" mobile coverage to the telco's customers across the country out to territorial limit.
“This means the immediate communication issues experienced after Cyclone Gabrielle will be confined to history," said Jason Paris, CEO of One NZ, which was formerly known as Vodafone NZ.
"It will give our customers more freedom with 100 per cent coverage across the country and means New Zealanders and New Zealand businesses are safer with us."
Meanwhile, 2degrees has teamed with US-based Lynk to trial a similar capability.
"Like other mobile providers around the world, 2degrees is exploring how best to enable connectivity for our customers when they’re beyond traditional coverage,” said 2degrees CEO, Mark Callander.
“LEO satellites are going to be a future contributor to the mobile experience and we’re committed to ensuring our customers have access to opportunities as they develop."
Paris said the SpaceX relationship supercharged One NZ's efforts to connect New Zealanders, eliminate black spots and provide quality mobile connectivity to everyone.
A key rational for the company’s rebrand was to invest more, which One NZ said was demonstrated by the new deal.
“Currently, our mobile network covers 98 percent of the places New Zealanders live and work however due to the length and geography of the country, almost 50 per cent the landmass still has no coverage," Paris said.
When live, satellite coverage will be available whether a customers was out on a boat, climbing a mountain, fixing a remote road or working on a farm.
“It will revolutionise how businesses operate in sectors such as agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, tourism, forestry, transport and logistics; the private and public sector opportunities are endless,” Paris said.
SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said New Zealand was one of the most isolated and rugged countries in the world, which made it an ideal use-case for SpaceX’s direct to cell connectivity.
James Alderdice, VP Asia-Pacific at Lynk, said the company was building, launching, and operating a constellation of LEO satellites which would act as "cell towers in space".
“The beauty of this is its simplicity as Lynk works with all existing standard 3GPP mobile devices," he said.
The trial with 2degrees will start this month.
“While full LEO satellite mobile services are some way away, we’re testing capabilities in this area to ensure 2degrees customers are set to benefit as Lynk LEO satellites are deployed," Callander said.
At an investor briefing last week, Paris presented strengthening results for the half year to the end of September 2022 showing total revenue up 4 per cent year on year to $990 million and gross margin up 8 per cent to $557 million.
"This is the result of deliberate moves over a number of years to create momentum," he said. "It's hard to do but also hard to stop."
One New Zealand said it would use the new service to ensure everyone was safe during an emergency regardless of their provider. The telco had dedicated part of its mid-band spectrum to ensure anyone with an appropriate phone would be able to call 111 in an emergency.
“This technology will save people’s lives and should be available to all," Paris said.
SpaceX’s next generation satellites will be in orbit and ready to support text and MMS from late 2024, with voice and data to follow.