Home5G & BeyondAST SpaceMobile-Rakuten Mobile satellite success could create universal smartphone suffrage

    AST SpaceMobile-Rakuten Mobile satellite success could create universal smartphone suffrage


    Lift off for the world’s disconnected

    The first ever two-way satellite voice calls between two unmodified smartphones was achieved on April 21 between Rakuten Mobile (RM) Japanese offices and AST SpaceMobile (AST) in Texas. It could open the doors to getting the world’s digital ‘have-nots’ connected, which could in turn have massive economic benefits for the 50% of the world’s population who can’t get a signal. The mobile phone, according to the World Bank, was responsible for lifting more people out of poverty in the developing world than anything else in history. In a survey of British farmers they hailed simple 2G handsets as the greatest farming tools ever. For now, the successful proof of concept means that the quest to bring broadband services to the unconnected half of the global population is a giant step closer, according to AST SpaceMobile.

    In addition to test calls, AST SpaceMobile engineers conducted initial compatibility tests on a variety of smartphones and devices. The phones successfully exchanged Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) and network information directly to BW3, which are crucial for delivering broadband connectivity from space to any phone or device. Additional testing and measurements on the smartphone uplink and downlink signal strength confirm the ability to support cellular broadband speeds and 4G LTE/5G waveforms.

    The number of telcos teaming up with AST SpaceMobile is growing by the month, according to TelecomTV. It has agreements and understandings with 36 mobile operators with a collective 2 billion existing subscribers, including Bell Canada, Orange, Telefónica, Telecom Italia (TIM), Saudi Telecom Company (stc), Zain KSA, Etisalat, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison, Smart Communications, Globe Telecom, Millicom, Smartfren, Telecom Argentina, Telstra, Africell, and Liberty Latin America, as well as Vodafone Group, AT&T and Rakuten Mobile. The UK’s Vodafone Group is one of several with a financial stake in the satellite firm.

    Japan’s RM is arguably the most high-tech mobile network on earth while US-based AST SpaceMobile pioneered the broadcast of cellular broadband network signals from satellites to unmodified smartphones. Using its BlueWalker 3 (BW3) satellite, the voice call connected Midland, Texas to Rakuten in Japan over AT&T spectrum on April 21, (10:31am Japan time to 8:31pm Teas time). Since this is the first time anyone has ever achieved a direct voice connection via space to a standard smart phone, it marks a significant milestone in AST SpaceMobile’s quest to bring broadband services to the unconnectable half of the global population.

    These initial test calls validate the AST SpaceMobile patents and design and prove that the from the BW3 satellite’s low Earth orbit it can reach the unconnected across the world with 2G, 3G, 4G LTE and 5G broadband from space. Engineers from Rakuten, Vodafone and AT&T participated in the preparation and testing of the first voice calls with BW3.

    The fellow travellers began their quest together in March 2020, when Rakuten Group and AST SpaceMobile announced a pact to developing the technology to deliver a space-based mobile service using low earth orbit satellites and Rakuten Mobile spectrum in Japan. The joint project’s vision for the service is to offer voice calls and web browsing and text messaging on unmodified standard smartphones. The service aims to send signals into areas such as mountain ranges, islands and deserts that were unreachable and to avoid comms blackouts in natural disasters, commonly experienced in Japan, that lay waste to terrestrial comms.

    AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan said this significant milestone was widely perceived as impossible and he would take a moment to celebrate this accomplishment but the next steps will take it closer to transforming the way the world connects. “As technological advancements like space connectivity become possible with pioneers like AST SpaceMobile, Rakuten will also progress even further along the road to democratizing connectivity for all,” said Rakuten Chairman & CEO Mickey Mikitani.