AST SpaceMobil announced its latest satellite-based connectivity milestone, making “5G” voice and data connections between a standard smartphone and a satellite. We say “5G” because there are no 5G satellite standards – only ITU-R M.2150 for terrestrial 5G. 3GPP Rel 17-20 will specify 5G SatCom.
Using the BlueWalker 3 test satellite and its 693-square-foot array — the largest such commercial telecommunications array in low Earth orbit — engineers at AST SpaceMobile made history on September 8, 2023, by demonstrating the first-ever 5G cellular connectivity from space directly to everyday smartphones. The company proved the feat using AT&T cellular spectrum in Maui, Hawaii, to make a voice call to Vodafone in Madrid, Spain. The call was facilitated by Nokia’s network core. The company also recently achieved other firsts in space-based cellular broadband, an industry it pioneered: voice calls, 4G data downloads of more than 14 Mbps, and 4G video calls.
AST SpaceMobile has included a YouTube link of its own in its latest announcement.
The two new milestones come in the wake of AST SpaceMobile’s announcement in April that it had completed the first ever space-based voice calls using normal smartphones.
It has, of course, come under scrutiny for that claim. In July Lynk, which is building an LEO constellation to create what it terms ‘cell towers in space,’ also claimed to have completed the world’s first voice calls over its network. Lynk seemed to hang much of its claim on the fact that it had a video as proof, although opinions vary on how conclusive such a video could be.
“Once again, we have achieved a significant technological advancement that represents a paradigm shift in access to information. Since the launch of BlueWalker 3, we have achieved full compatibility with phones made by all major manufacturers and support for 2G, 4G LTE, and now 5G,” said AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan. It’s worth noting that BlueWalker 3 is a test satellite; AST Space Mobile plans to launch its first five commercial satellites in the first quarter of next year.
“Making the first successful 5G cellular broadband connections from space directly to mobile phones is yet another significant advancement in telecommunications AST SpaceMobile has pioneered,” Avellan declared. Vodafone, AT&T and Nokia also contributed – slightly less self-congratulatory – statements about their own roles in proceedings and the potential of the technology to connect the unconnected.
It’s hard to argue with that last point, which is part of the reason why satellite-based connectivity is having something of an extended moment in the spotlight, with AST SpaceMobile, Lynk, Sateliot and others talking up their various achievements.
AST SpaceMobile describes itself as “the company building the first and only space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones.”
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