According to findings from global technology intelligence firm ABI Research, the non-terrestrial networks (NTN)Mobile segment could exceed 200 million connections by 2031 

Last year saw the completion of 3GPP’s Release-17, contained within which were various new specifications allowing NTN (primarily satellites) to serve both handheld mobile devices and the IoT. Since then, numerous firms like Apple, Huawei, ZTE, Qualcomm, Motorola, MediaTek, Bullitt, Globalstar, Inmarsat, and Iridium have all entered strategic partnerships within the satellite and mobile industries, seeking to capitalise on the emerging NTN–mobile market. 

For the mobile network operators (MNOs), meanwhile, the growing prominence of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations represents a major opportunity to their coverage beyond the reach of their traditional, terrestrial networks. T-Mobile, for instance, has joined forces with Starlink (SpaceX) to supply satellite-to-mobile connectivity. Similar partnerships from satellite operators such as Lynk and AST SpaceMobile, have been struck with major MNOs including Vodafone, Rakuten Mobile, AT&T, Bell Canada, MTN Group, Orange, Zain KSA, Saudi Telecom Company (STC), and Telefónica.  

“The emergence of satellite-enabled mobile devices from major consumer smartphone manufacturers and chipset makers like Apple, Qualcomm, Motorola, MediaTek, Huawei, and ZTE indicates the upcoming introduction of satellite communications into the mainstream consumer market,” said Victor Xu, Satellite Communications Research Analyst at ABI Research.  

However, whilst the advancements in satellite-to-cellular communications are exciting, it should be remembered that the majority of satellite services will initially target the IoT, low data rate communications, and emergency service communications, not the consumer segment. As the technology and standards mature in the following years, however, more advanced 5G-based New Radio (NR)–NTN will be incorporated, which will increase the capabilities of the network, allowing for more users.  

This introduction of NR–NTN satellite services, expected in 2026, will likely be the key driver for the large projected growth in the sector, with ABI projecting a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 59% from 2024 to 2031. According to the company’sThe Role of Satellite in 5G: Non-Terrestrial Networks Mobile application analysis report, the market could reach a value of over $18 billion by 2031, with up to 200 million NTN connections. 


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