AT&T deal with AST SpaceMobile to provide wireless service from space

AT&T and satellite network provider AST SpaceMobile are teaming up to provide wireless service from space — a challenge to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which struck a similar deal two years ago with T-Mobile US.  AT&T and AST SpaceMobile formalized the partnership following an earlier testing period. They said on Wednesday that their agreement to build a space-based broadband network will run through 2030.

AT&T head of network Chris Sambar will join the AST SpaceMobile board, deepening a relationship that dates back to at least 2018. Sambar said in an interview that his team is confident in AST SpaceMobile’s technology, as demonstrated by the performance of the BlueWalker 3 test satellite. The relationship is moving from “loose partner to a strategic partner,” he said.

Wireless providers are in a race to offer connections for the world’s estimated 5 billion mobile phones when those devices are in remote areas beyond the reach of cell towers. For consumers, these services hold the promise of connectivity along rural roads and in places likes national parks. The service is typically marketed as a supplement to standard wireless coverage.

The new satellite network will work with ordinary mobile phones, offering a level of convenience that’s lacking in current call-via-satellite services, which require the assistance of bulky specialized equipment.

“Space-based direct-to-mobile technology is designed to provide customers connectivity by complementing and integrating with our existing mobile network,” said Jeff McElfresh, Chief Operating Officer, AT&T. “This agreement is the next step in our industry leadership to use emerging satellite technologies to provide services to consumers and in locations where connectivity was not previously feasible.”

“Working together with AT&T has paved the way to unlock the potential of space-based cellular broadband directly to everyday smartphones. We are thrilled to solidify our collaboration through this landmark agreement,” said Abel Avellan, AST SpaceMobile Founder, Chairman, and CEO. “We aim to bring seamless, reliable service to consumers and businesses across the continental U.S., transforming the way people connect and access information.”

AST SpaceMobile this summer will send five satellites to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for launch into low Earth orbit. AT&T’s Sambar didn’t say when service to customers might begin. “This will be a full data service, unlike anything you can get today from a low-Earth orbit constellation,” Sambar said.

T-Mobile is working with the low-Earth orbiting Starlink service from Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. The mobile carrier earlier said that its calling-via-satellite service could begin this year.

SpaceX has roughly 6,000 satellites aloft in low-Earth orbit — far more than any other company. The trajectory, with satellites circling near the Earth’s surface, allows communications signals to travel quickly between spacecraft and a terrestrial user.

SpaceX in January launched its first set of satellites capable of offering mobile phone service. The service “will allow for mobile phone connectivity anywhere on Earth,” Musk said in a post on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, though he added that technical limitations mean “it is not meaningfully competitive with existing terrestrial cellular networks.”

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About AST SpaceMobile

AST SpaceMobile, Inc. is building the first and only global cellular broadband network in space to operate directly with standard, unmodified mobile devices based on our extensive IP and patent portfolio, and designed for both commercial and government applications. Our engineers and space scientists are on a mission to eliminate the connectivity gaps faced by today’s five billion mobile subscribers and finally bring broadband to the billions who remain unconnected. For more information, follow AST SpaceMobile on YouTubeX (formerly Twitter)LinkedIn and Facebook. Watch this video for an overview of the SpaceMobile mission.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-05-15/at-t-strikes-space-broadband-deal-in-challenge-to-musk-s-spacex

https://about.att.com/story/2024/ast-spacemobile-commercial-agreement.html

AST SpaceMobile: “5G” Connectivity from Space to Everyday Smartphones

AST SpaceMobile achieves 4G LTE download speeds >10 Mbps during test in Hawaii

AST SpaceMobile completes 1st ever LEO satellite voice call using AT&T spectrum and unmodified Samsung and Apple smartphones

AST SpaceMobile Deploys Largest-Ever LEO Satellite Communications Array

 

 

SpaceX launches first set of Starlink satellites with direct-to-cell capabilities

T-Mobile US today said that SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday with the first set of Starlink satellites that can beam phone signals from space directly to smartphones. The U.S wireless carrier will use Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to provide mobile users with network access in parts of the United States, the companies had announced in August 2022.  The direct-to-cell service at first will begin with text messaging followed by voice and data capabilities in the coming years, T-Mobile said.  Satellite service will not be immediately available to T-Mobile customers; the company said that field testing would begin “soon.”

SpaceX plans to “rapidly” scale up the project, according to Sara Spangelo, senior director of satellite engineering at SpaceX. “The launch of these first direct-to-cell satellites is an exciting milestone for SpaceX to demonstrate our technology,” she said.

Mike Katz, president of marketing, strategy and products at T-Mobile, said the service was designed to help ensure users remained connected “even in the most remote locations”. He said he hoped dead zones would become “a thing of the past”.

Other wireless providers across the world, including Japan’s KDDI,  Australia’s Optus, New Zealand’s One NZ, Canada’s Rogers will collaborate with SpaceX to launch direct-to-cell technology.

References:

https://www.reuters.com/technology/space/spacex-launches-first-set-satellites-with-direct-to-cell-capabilities-2024-01-03/

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2024/jan/03/spacex-elon-musk-phone-starlink-satellites

Starlink Direct to Cell service (via Entel) is coming to Chile and Peru be end of 2024

Starlink’s Direct to Cell service for existing LTE phones “wherever you can see the sky”

 

Starlink Direct to Cell service (via Entel) is coming to Chile and Peru be end of 2024

Chilean network operator Entel and SpaceX, the company that owns satellite internet provider Starlink, made a commercial agreement to provide satellite-to-mobile services. The agreement will improve broadband coverage for Entel’s LTE customers.  It will allow millions of cell phones in Chile and Peru to access satellite coverage starting at the end of 2024.

The first Starlink satellites with Direct to Cell capacity will be launched, providing basic satellite connectivity by the end of 2024.  Starlink is a pioneer in providing fixed broadband services through low-orbit satellite networks, which helped it to gain an advantage in the development of direct-to-cell technology.

Starlink satellites with Direct to Cell capabilities enable access to texting, calling, and browsing anywhere on land, lakes, or coastal waters. Direct to Cell will also connect IoT devices which have LTE cellular access.

“One of the great advantages of this proposal is that it will work using the same 4G VoLTE phones that exist in the market today. It does not require any special equipment or special software,” Entel network manager Luis Uribe told BNamericas. “This is an important advantage over traditional satellite solutions. It is a technology that is still evolving, it is being developed. We are going to explore [use cases] as [the technology] advances,” he added.

Although Entel’s mobile networks cover 98% of the populations of Chile and Peru, the Starlink deal will allow it to provide services in maritime territory or in areas that suffered natural disasters.

“It is a technology that has enormous potential as a result of its ability to cover areas that traditional networks cannot achieve,” Uribe said.

A so-called line of sight between device and satellite is required for direct-to-cell to work, meaning the technology might not work indoors or in dense forests. If available, terrestrial coverage will be prioritized.

While other companies are developing similar solutions, they are not as advanced as Starlink. “We see other solutions that also look interesting. To the extent that these do not involve special software or devices, they could be an option,” said Uribe.

Entel is also focused on 5G deployment, achieving a first-stage goal of connecting 270 localities from Arica in the north to Puerto Williams in the south in August.

The company is investing US$350mn in the entire deployment program. In October, Entel enabled NB-IoT at over 6,500 sites to boost connectivity for Internet of Things devices.

“From the point of view of the company’s internal processes, we are incorporating artificial intelligence and generative artificial intelligence tools,” said Uribe. The technologies are being used for automation processes and network optimization, among others.

References:

https://www.bnamericas.com/en/features/spotlight-the-entel-starlink-mobile-coverage-agreement

https://direct.starlink.com/

Starlink’s Direct to Cell service for existing LTE phones “wherever you can see the sky”

SpaceX has majority of all satellites in orbit; Starlink achieves cash-flow breakeven

 

 

SpaceX has majority of all satellites in orbit; Starlink achieves cash-flow breakeven

SpaceX accounts for roughly one-half of all orbital space launches around the world, and it’s growing its launch frequency. It also has a majority of all the satellites in orbit around the planet.  This Thursday, majority owner & CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Excited to announce that SpaceX Starlink has achieved breakeven cash flow! Starlink (a SpaceX subsidiary) is also now a majority of all active satellites and will have launched a majority of all satellites cumulatively from Earth by next year.”

There are some 5,000 Starlink satellites in orbit. Starlink satellites are small, lower-cost satellites built by SpaceX that deliver high-speed, space-based internet service to customers on Earth. Starlink can cost about $120 a month and there is some hardware to buy as well.

Starlink ended 2022 with roughly 1 million subscribers. The subscriber count now isn’t known, but it could be approaching 2 million users based on prior growth rates. SpaceX didn’t return a request for comment.

In 2021, Musk said SpaceX would spin off and take Starlink public once its cash flow was reasonably predictable.

A SpaceX rocket carriers Starlink satellites into orbit. PHOTO CREDIT:  SPACEX

Starlink has been in the spotlight since last year as it helps provide Ukraine with satellite communications key to its war efforts against Russia.

Last month, Musk said Starlink will support communication links in Gaza with “internationally recognized aid organizations” after a telephone and internet blackout isolated people in the Gaza Strip from the world and from each other.

Musk has sought to establish the Starlink business unit as a crucial source of revenue to fund SpaceX’s more capital-intensive projects such as its next-generation Starship, a giant reusable rocket the company intends to fly to the moon for NASA within the next decade.

Starlink posted a more than six-fold surge in revenue last year to $1.4 billion, but fell short of targets set by Musk, the Wall Street Journal reported in September, citing documents.

SpaceX is valued at about $150 billion and is one of the most valuable private companies in the world.

References:

https://www.reuters.com/technology/elon-musk-says-starlink-has-achieved-breakeven-cash-flow-2023-11-02/

https://www.barrons.com/articles/elon-musk-spacex-starlink-86fe99ec?

Amazon launches first Project Kuiper satellites in direct competition with SpaceX/Starlink

Amazon has finally joined the race to build massive constellations of satellites that can blanket the globe in internet connectivity — a move that puts the tech company in direct competition with SpaceX and its Starlink satellite Internet system.  The first two prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper space network, launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 2:06 p.m. ET Friday. The Protoflight launch is the first mission in a broader commercial partnership between ULA and Amazon to launch the majority of the Project Kuiper constellation.  

“This is Amazon’s first time putting satellites into space, and we’re going to learn an incredible amount regardless of how the mission unfolds,” Rajeev Badyal, a vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon, said in a statement from the company before the launch. “We’ve done extensive testing here in our lab and have a high degree of confidence in our satellite design, but there’s no substitute for on-orbit testing,” he added.

“This initial launch is the first step in support of deployment of Amazon’s initiative to provide fast, affordable broadband service to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “We have worked diligently in partnership with the Project Kuiper team to launch this important mission that will help connect the world. We look forward to continuing and building on the partnership for future missions.”   

United Launch Alliance cut off the livestream of the launch after the first stage of its rocket — the portion that provides the initial boost at liftoff — finished firing its engines off. The company did confirm “mission success,” and said in a news release that it “precisely” delivered the satellites. Amazon could not immediately confirm contact with the satellites.

A ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the Protoflight mission for Amazon’s Project Kuiper lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:06 p.m. EDT on October 6.

Photo by United Launch Alliance

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If successful, the mission could queue up Amazon to begin adding hundreds more of the satellites into orbit, eventually building a network of more than 3,200 satellites that will work in tandem to beam internet connectivity to the ground.

But why wasn’t a Blue Origin (owned by Jeff Bezos) rocket used to launch the Project Kuiper satellites?   It’s because Blue Origin has yet to launch anything into orbit. Although its suborbital space tourist rocket New Shepard has made many flights, the New Glenn rocket that it has been developing for more than a decade to take payloads like Kuiper satellites to orbit is at least three years behind schedule. Its debut flight is penciled in for next year. In April last year, Amazon announced a gigantic purchase of up to 83 launches, the largest commercial purchase of rocket launches ever. That includes 27 from Blue Origin and the rest from two other companies, Arianespace of France and United Launch Alliance of the United States. The contracts with the other companies also rely on new rockets that have not yet flown: the Ariane 6 from Arianespace and the Vulcan from United Launch Alliance.

The leading satellite Internet company is Starlink, the SpaceX subsidiary that has been growing rapidly since 2019.  SpaceX has more than 4,500 active Starlink satellites in orbit and offers commercial and residential service to most of the Americas, Europe and Australia.

The space industry is in the midst of a revolution. Until relatively recently, most space-based telecommunications services were provided by large, expensive satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which lies thousands of miles away from Earth. The drawback with this space-based internet strategy was that the extreme distance of the satellites created frustrating lag times.  Now, companies including SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon are looking to bring things closer to home.

Even before those companies began to build their services, the satellite industry dreamed of delivering high-speed, space-based internet directly to consumers. There were several such efforts in the 1990s that either ended in bankruptcy or forced corporate owners to shift plans when expenses outweighed the payoffs.

Such widespread high-speed internet access could be revolutionary. As of 2021, nearly 3 billion people across the globe still lacked basic internet access, according to statistics from the United Nations. That’s because more common forms of internet service, such as underground fiber optic cables, had not yet reached certain areas of the world.

SpaceX is well ahead of the competition in terms of growing its service, and its efforts so far have occasionally thrust the company into geopolitical controversy.  The company notably faced significant blowback in late 2022 and early 2023 for preventing Ukrainian troops on the front lines of the war with Russia from accessing Starlink services, which had been crucial to Ukraine’s military operations. (The company later reversed course, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk discussed the Ukraine controversy in a recent book.)  It’s possible Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation could become part of that conversation — facing similar geopolitical pressures — if the network proves successful.

“I’m also curious if Amazon plans dual-use capabilities where government/defense will be a major client. This may result in the targeting of Kuiper like that of Starlink in Ukraine,” said Gregory Falco, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University, in a statement.

Despite the promises of a global internet access revolution, the massive satellite megaconstellations needed to beam internet across the globe are controversial. Already, there are thousands of pieces of space junk in low-Earth orbit. And the more objects there are in space, the more likely it is that disastrous collisions could occur, further exacerbating the issue.

The Federal Communications Commission, which authorizes space-based telecom services, recently began enhancing its space debris mitigation policies.  The satellite industry has largely pledged to abide by recommended best practices, including pledging to deorbit satellites as missions conclude.

In a May blog post, Amazon previously laid out its plans for sustainability, which include ensuring its satellites are capable of maneuvering while in orbit.  Amazon also pledged to safely deorbit the first two test satellites at the end of their mission.

Separately, astronomers have also continuously raised concerns about the impact all these satellites in low-Earth orbit have on the night sky, warning that these manmade objects can intrude upon and distort telescope observations and complicate ongoing research.

Amazon addressed those concerns in a statement to CNN, saying one of the two prototype satellites it launched Friday will test antireflective technology aiming to mitigate telescope interference. The company has also been consulting with astronomers from organizations such as the National Science Foundation, according to Amazon spokesperson Brecke Boyd.  However, SpaceX has made similar commitments.

It remains to be seen how well Project Kuiper will compete with SpaceX’s Starlink. And while Starlink already has more than 1 million customers, documents recently obtained by the Wall Street Journal showed that the SpaceX megaconstellation hasn’t been as successful as once projected.

As far as consumer price points go: People can purchase a Starlink user terminal for a home for about $600 plus the cost of monthly service.

Amazon has said it hopes to produce Project Kuiper terminals for as low as about $400 per device, though the company has not yet begun demonstrating or selling the terminals. The company has not revealed a price for monthly Kuiper services.

SpaceX has had the clear advantage of using its own Falcon 9 rockets to launch batches of Starlink satellites to orbit.

Amazon does not have its own rockets. And while the Jeff Bezos-founded rocket company Blue Origin is working on a rocket capable of reaching orbit, the project is years behind schedule.

For now, Kuiper satellites are launching on rockets built by United Launch Alliance, a close partner of Blue Origin. In addition to ULA and Blue Origin, Amazon has a Project Kuiper launch contract with European launch provider Arianespace.

On August 28, The Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, which owns a stake in Amazon, filed a lawsuit against the company over the launch contracts. The lawsuit alleges Amazon executives “consciously and intentionally breached their most basic fiduciary responsibilities” in part by forgoing the option of launching Project Kuiper satellites on rockets built by SpaceX, which the suit claims is “one of the most cost-effective launch providers.”

“The claims in this lawsuit are completely without merit, and we look forward to showing that through the legal process,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

If all goes to plan, Amazon said it intends to launch its first production satellites early next year and begin offering beta testing to initial customers by the end of 2024, according to a news release.

References:

https://www.cnn.com/2023/10/06/world/amazon-kuiper-internet-satellites-spacex-starlink-scn/index.html

https://newsroom.ulalaunch.com/releases/united-launch-alliance-successfully-launches-first-mission-in-partnership-with-amazon

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/06/science/amazon-project-kuiper-launch.html