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China Telecom Launches Satellite Phone Service in Hong Kong

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In a significant development, Hong Kong residents now have access to China Telecom’s satellite direct-to-phone service, marking a pivotal step in the operator’s expansion strategy.

China Telecom has long provided satellite options to mobile customers through a range of devices, including dongles, dedicated satphones, and smartphones equipped with built-in satellite antennas from manufacturers like Huawei. These devices link up to China’s Tiantong-1 geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) satellite constellation, which currently consists of three satellites covering mainland China, neighboring Asian countries, the Asia-Pacific region, seas around these areas, and even the east coast of Africa. Another satellite is slated for launch later this year.

Unlike typical satellite direct-to-device (D2D) connectivity, which often uses low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites like Starlink for faster speeds but limited coverage, China Telecom’s approach with GEO satellites is a unique achievement. Although the throughput of the Tiantong-1 satellite reaches up to a modest 384 Kbps, it has already recorded significant usage, with over 400,000 calls per month in 2021 and a success rate of over 96%. The operator predicts that D2D users in China will exceed 3 million by 2025.

Until now, the service has primarily been available in mainland China, but this week’s launch in Hong Kong signals its expansion into new territories. Yin Jin, CEO of China Telecom Global, emphasized that the service will cater to users commuting between Hong Kong and neighboring areas like Shenzhen, Macao, and Zhuhai, as well as supporting maritime and emergency communication services.

Yang Lingcai, president of China Telecom’s SatCom unit, described the launch as “a new starting point” for extending Tiantong’s operations overseas, particularly into Southeast Asia, South Asia, and other countries involved in the Belt and Road initiative.

The rollout in Hong Kong coincided with China Telecom’s debut of its satellite D2D capabilities to an international audience at this year’s Mobile World Congress, signaling broader ambitions for global connectivity.

Moreover, this week also witnessed China’s successful launch of its first medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites under the Smart Skynet program, which will test advanced space-based network technologies. Looking ahead, China plans to deploy thousands of LEO satellites as part of Project Guo Wang, making 2024 a transformative year for the country’s satellite communications sector.

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