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AST SpaceMobile enlists SpaceX to deliver on space comms mission

Aiming to bridge the digital divide through in-orbit technology, space-based cellular broadband network provider teams with Elon Musk-owned firm to deliver direct-to-phone connectivity

As part of its stated mission to eliminate connectivity gaps faced by at least five billion mobile subscribers and bring cellular broadband to approximately half of the world’s population, AST SpaceMobile has signed a multi-launch agreement with SpaceX.

Texas-based AST SpaceMobile claims to be building the first and only space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly from standard, unmodified mobile devices based on its extensive IP and patent portfolio. Its engineers and space scientists are on a mission to eliminate the connectivity gaps and finally bring broadband to billions.

AST SpaceMobile said it would offer the first service of its kind to connect standard mobile phones at 4G and 5G speeds, using its patented space-based network. The company claimed this would be a significant breakthrough in helping to bring affordable mobile connectivity to traditionally underserved and potential mobile subscribers who do not have internet access on their phone.

It pointed out that traditional satellite systems require expensive specialised satellite phones or ground antenna systems, different to its patented technology, where all that is needed is the phone.

As it carries out its mission, the company has forged a collaboration with mobile network operators and wireless infrastructure companies, including Vodafone, Rakuten and American Tower, which AST SpaceMobile said were making “giant leaps” in their pursuit of connecting the unconnected.

The first tranche of AST SpaceMobile’s launch plans will involve the use of 20 satellites to offer seamless, low-latency mobile connectivity that can be accessed by approximately 1.6 billion people across a vast geographical region.

AST SpaceMobile’s space-based cellular broadband can be accessed from standard mobile devices

The initial service will target an area north and south of the equator, including rural and remote areas of a number of markets where Vodafone will integrate the technology into the services provided by its Vodacom, Safaricom and Vodafone brands. Subject to regulatory approval in each market, these will include DRC, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania. AST SpaceMobile will also apply for regulatory approval to launch the service in India.

The partnership with the Elon Musk-owned space vehicle provider SpaceX covers AST SpaceMobile’s forthcoming launch of the BlueWalker 3 (BW3) test satellite and BlueBird satellites, as well as providing a framework for future launches.

The BW3 satellite is slated to launch from Cape Canaveral on a Falcon 9 vehicle. The satellite has an aperture of 693ft2 and is designed to communicate directly with mobile phones via 3GPP standard frequencies. The BlueBird satellites are also designed to be compatible with the Falcon 9 vehicle, as well as other existing and planned industry launch vehicles. These production satellites are designed to provide broadband commercial service directly to mobile phones, without any additional hardware or software on the phone.

At full capacity, AST SpaceMobile will be able to assemble up to six BlueBird satellites per month at its Texas manufacturing facilities, offering a combined 185,000ft2.

“This agreement secures the availability for a reliable launch of our first production satellites out of the US,” said AST SpaceMobile founder, chairman and CEO Abel Avellan. “Our summer launch of BlueWalker 3 will complete the development phase for our company. We have also been industrialising our technology and preparing for the launch of the BlueBird satellites, with this agreement a key step.”

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