No matter how well-developed the mobile telephone networks are, coverage in mountainous areas and remote locations will always be deficient with the placement of land relays to cover every possible location at prohibitive costs. For such situations, satellite phone services have been around for many years and they work, but they are also very expensive and the need to purchase a special phone disqualifies them for ordinary users.
The US startup UbiquitiLink promises to solve this problem by putting GSM relays on the orbit. Thus, ordinary mobile phones can connect to a GSM network. Unlike other similar projects, such as those already proposed by SpaceX, OneWeb, or Amazon, UbiquitiLink does not aim at internet access but only basic mobile services, using low-cost satellites to which ordinary mobile phones can connect without other changes. The project involves the launch of thousands of miniature satellites so that any location on Earth is permanently within range.
Compared to terrestrial GSM cells operating at distances of several tens of kilometers, the GSM satellites proposed by UbiquitiLink will have to connect mobile phones over distances of more than 500km, above the earth. Of course, the fact that there are no other physical obstacles outside the occasional rain clouds should help, but the reality is that ordinary cell phones have not been designed to connect at such distances. Thus, we can expect only basic services for voice calls and connections available in open spaces, such as GPS receivers which cannot operate inside buildings.
According to UbiquitiLink, globally there are more than 750 million mobile phone users in areas with poor mobile network coverage. For them, the coverage could be easily extended by the mobile operator to which they are already subscribers. For example, by offering roaming access to the UbiquitiLink network and by purchasing an “extended coverage” as an extra option. Given the connection distance, connecting to GSM cells hosted on Earth orbit would only be done in the last instance, when no other terrestrial relay can provide a stable connection, UbiquitiLink acting as a safety net and for exceptional situations such as power outages and other natural disasters affecting the land networks.