Satellite Texting Without a Subscription #CES2019

The ability to send an emergency text with GPS location information is what Higher Ground offers with its SatPaq™ and SpaceLinq™ app. By using Geosynchronous satellites and a clever radio design and app, Higher Ground’s solution could literally be a lifesaver for anyone in an emergency where there is no telecommunications network. Best of all, it is an affordable solution with no subscription charges and only 29 cents per message.

Higher Ground’s path to market was as tough as the technical challenges of bursting data 23,000 miles to what amounts to a microscopic relay in outer space. Incumbent operators were concerned with interference from Higher Ground’s pint-sized transceivers and implored the FCC to prevent their use of the 5925 to 6425 MHz uplink band (see this IEEE Feb., 2017 article for more detail).

Higher Ground addresses those concerns by taking a page out of the TV White Spaces book by creating a database (Channel Master) that is derived from the FCC Universal Licensing System (ULS) to identify the locations and frequencies of licensed transmitters. It then picks an unused frequency to transmit to the satellite.

Further, transmissions do not begin until the radio is pointed to the satellite. Given the short data bursts, the low power and the small bandwidth (approximately 1/2 MHz) of the transmission, the opportunity for interfering with the point-to-point radio systems of the incumbent would appear to be very minimal.

The FCC seems to agree with that view with their January, 18th, 2017 order. Balancing the concerns of the incumbents with the desire to innovate the management of spectrum, the FCC limited the rollout of the Higher Ground radios to evaluate the real-world implementation of the technology,

“Specifically, Higher Ground may deploy up to 5,000 new terminals each quarter during the first year following authorization. Thereafter, Higher Ground may deploy additional terminals up to the 50,000 total authorized number.”

But, the limits of the FCC’s 2017 ruling will most likely be lifted thanks to an FCC initiative to release more bandwidth for unlicensed use. The October 2018 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which proposes a database-driven, non-interference causing, cognitive radio, managed approach for the entire 5.925-7.125 GHz (6 GHz) band. In layman terms, this means the frequency band would be free to use on an unlicensed basis, except that, just like the SatPaq, radios would have to be good neighbors and not cause interference with incumbent operators.

And licensing of the back-end database technology could be the upside for this Palo Alto-based technology company. Rob Reis, Higher Ground’s president, explained in a phone call, that they are in discussions with various organizations and that they will provide their radio coordination database on a non-exclusive basis.

Rob Reis is quick to give praise the FCC for developing ULS, which is the basis for innovation in spectrum management.

“Give credit to the FCC – they developed ULS without having customers. They deserve the credit more than we do. They stepped out and did something progressive. They are changing the world.”

It is important to note that the October 2018 NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) received 100% bipartisan support with all the Commissioners voting to move it forward. As the time of publication of this article, there are 20 comments and Ex Parte submissions ranging from concern to full support [Comments are due by February 15, 2019; reply comments are due by March 18, 2019].

Regarding the receive portion of the spectrum, the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz band, which also has an outstanding NPRM to allow flexibility for new mobile applications, Reis stressed that their radios, which are tunable over the entire band (and controlled by their network center), will be able to adapt to changes in how that particular band of spectrum is allocated.

And like so many app-based, smart devices, it looks like there will be an app store associated with the SatPaq radio according to their 2017 product filing. The filing shows a question and answer capability, emergency responder request and weather information all presumably optimized for their low-bandwidth transmission. The sky appears to be the limit for Higher Ground and its nascent app, radio, and network.

More info: https://satpaq.com/