Spark to launch satellite to mobile service

Spark to launch satellite to mobile service

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The New Zealand MNO has announced a partnership with Lynk and plans to launch a trial by the end of the year.

Spark have announced a satellite to mobile service will be delivered through a partnership with low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite provider Lynk Global. The trial will initially be available to a select group of Spark customers who opt-in, with further details regarding participation and timelines to be revealed in the coming months.

During the trial phase, the service will offer periodic text messaging capabilities throughout the day, gradually expanding to provide more regular service in 2024 as additional commercial satellites are deployed.

Spark aims to extend the service to a broader customer base and intends to offer voice and data services as they become consistently accessible, but the launch of the service will depend on the performance of the trial and regulatory approval.

In a press release, Tessa Tierney, Spark's product director, emphasised the significance of satellite technology in connecting New Zealand, although she acknowledged that coverage will not be able to reach 100%. Satellite coverage is restricted by the impact of weather, being indoors or within vehicles, dense forest cover, and other factors that limit a direct line of site to the sky.

It will however offer an additional layer of resilience, particularly in the face of increasingly severe weather events linked to climate change, Tierney said.

Climate change has already impacted New Zealand’s telecoms infrastructure this year, with 20% of Spark’s mobile sites effected by the devastating Cyclone Gabriel in February. The storm was only the third time that the government declared a national emergency, the other two times being the Christchurch earthquake of 2011 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The majority of the disruption generated by the storm was caused by fibre backhaul and mains power outages as landslides and fallen trees rocked the North Island.

The satellite service will enable Spark's mobile customers to use their phones in areas where traditional mobile coverage is limited once more satellites are launched and the service becomes widely available.

Coverage in New Zealand’s rural areas was identified to be lacking by the government in 2017. A that time, they awarded a contract to a joint venture established by the three MNOs; Spark, what was then Vodafone New Zealand and 2degrees.

The joint venture is known as the Rural Connectivity Group and received government funding to deploy over 400 tower sites over a five-year period throughout rural New Zealand. The goal of the group was to improve access to wireless broadband and provide mobile coverage at black spots on key national highways and tourist hotspots.

On the launch of the trial, Tierney stated, "Our decision to conduct this trial with select customers first ensures that we can deliver an excellent product when we make it widely accessible.”

The collaboration with Lynk for the satellite-to-mobile service is part of Spark's broader strategy to incorporate satellite technology into its connectivity offerings.

Spark recently announced a partnership with Netlinkz to provide satellite broadband to customers later this year, following ongoing trials with a select group of New Zealand businesses.

Earlier this year, competitor MNO 2Degrees also announced a partnership with Lynk that would enable its customers to connect from areas outside of terrestrial mobile coverage.

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