AST SpaceMobile has announced a significant achievement during its testing phase with the BlueWalker 3 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite. Engineers successfully conducted download speed tests on off-the-shelf smartphones, surpassing speeds of 10 Mbps. This achievement paves the way for space-based cellular communications at 4G speeds, marking another major milestone, according to the company. AST SpaceMobile says it is building the first and only global cellular broadband network in space to operate directly with standard, unmodified mobile devices.
In a press release, AST SpaceMobile Chairman and CEO Abel Avellan called this latest achievement another groundbreaking moment in telecom history and an important step toward AST SpaceMobile’s goal of bringing broadband services to parts of the world where cellular coverage is either unreliable or doesn’t exist today.
The 4G LTE download speed testing, which used AT&T spectrum and Nokia Radio Access Network (RAN) technology, reached initial speeds up to 10.3 Mbps, with further testing of voice calls to AT&T employees.
“Successfully reaching double-digit download speeds during satellite-to-smartphone testing takes us one step closer to ensuring people across the United States will be able to stay connected no matter their location,” said Chris Sambar, head of AT&T Network, in a statement. “This milestone wouldn’t be possible without the overall focus and determination of the teams working daily to achieve our shared space-based vision of connectivity.”
The next major test activity involves the enablement of 5G broadband.
AST SpaceMobile expects to begin initial non-continuous commercial service in 2024 after the launch of its first five planned BlueBird 1 satellites, followed by the launch of 90 satellites for global, continuous broadband and direct-to-device service.
This achievement demonstrates the feasibility of accessing broadband services in areas where cellular coverage is unreliable or nonexistent, bringing connectivity to parts of the world previously underserved.
AST SpaceMobile emphasized the significance of this milestone and its impact on global connectivity: “Achieving this milestone from an unmodified, standard cell phone on the ground connecting through our low Earth orbit satellite is another groundbreaking moment in telecommunications history and an important step toward AST SpaceMobile’s goal of bringing broadband services to parts of the world where cellular coverage is either unreliable or simply does not exist today.”
AST SpaceMobile announced on April 25th that they completed the first-ever space-based voice calls using unmodified smartphones. They achieved this through the successful deployment of BlueWalker 3, which is the largest commercial communications array ever deployed in low-Earth orbit.
According to the statement, BlueWalker 3 is designed to communicate directly with cellular devices using standard frequencies, including 5G speeds. The satellite is now fully unfolded, spanning a size of 693 square feet, which is crucial in supporting a cellular broadband network in space.
The AST SpaceMobile technology helps wireless companies improve their coverage by filling in gaps and dead zones in their networks. AST SpaceMobile has agreements and understandings with over 35 mobile network operators around the world.
FCC Grants Experimental License to AST SpaceMobile for BlueWalker 3 Satellite using Spectrum from AT&T
The FCC will permit AST SpaceMobile to test transmissions from smartphones directly to its new satellite. Apparently, AST SpaceMobile’s testing in the U.S. will use spectrum licenses owned by AT&T.
AST SpaceMobile said it will conduct the testing “using 3GPP low-band cellular frequencies and Q/V-band frequencies,” though it did not provide details. However, the company’s FCC application, approved Monday, lists three spectrum licenses that are owned by AT&T.
Brian Goemmer, founder of spectrum-tracking company AllNet Insights & Analytics, said AST SpaceMobile will use AT&T’s 846.5-849MHz license in Midland, Texas; its 845-846.5MHz license in Honolulu; and its 788-798MHz license in Pine Springs, Texas. The last one is notable because it’s connected to FirstNet, a government agency working with AT&T to build a nationwide broadband network for public safety users.
Light Reading first reported of a connection between AST SpaceMobile and AT&T in 2020. However, the companies have remained relatively quiet about their work together. Officials from AST SpaceMobile and AT&T did not immediately respond to questions from Light Reading about the planned testing.
According to FierceWireless, AST SpaceMobile will also test its service in Japan with Rakuten Mobile. AST SpaceMobile has also announced deals with the likes of Vodafone, Smart Communications, Africell and UT Mobile.
AST SpaceMobile said it expects to begin testing its offering after it launches its new BlueWalker 3 sometime this summer. The company had hoped to launch the satellite sometime in March or April, but that effort was delayed.
Broadly, both Lynk and AST SpaceMobile promise to connect existing, unmodified cell phones to their low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites by conducting transmissions in the licensed spectrum bands of their mobile network operator partners. Lynk has promised to launch commercial services by next year, while AST SpaceMobile has promised a 2023 commercial launch.
The authorization comes as the company prepares for the planned summer 2022 launch of BlueWalker 3, its test satellite with an aperture of 693 square feet that is designed to communicate directly with cell phones via 3GPP standard frequencies.
“We appreciate the diligent support of the FCC in providing the experimental license for our upcoming satellite launch,” said AST SpaceMobile Founder, Chairman and CEO Abel Avellan. “Together with other testing around the world, this license will enable us to conduct some of our most important testing here, at home, in the United States.”
AST SpaceMobile continues to pursue additional authorizations with the FCC related to its planned constellation of BlueBird satellites.
AST SpaceMobile’s mission is to eliminate the connectivity gaps faced by today’s five billion mobile subscribers moving in and out of coverage zones, and bring cellular broadband to approximately half of the world’s population who remain unconnected. Partners in this effort are leading global wireless infrastructure companies, including Rakuten Mobile, Vodafone and American Tower.
The company’s announcement this week caps a few busy months for AST SpaceMobile. Cogent Communications’ CFO, Sean Wallace, recently signed on as AST SpaceMobile’s new CFO. And the company signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Globe Telecom in the Philippines.
About AST SpaceMobile:
AST SpaceMobile 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. 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 Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Watch this video for an overview of the SpaceMobile mission.