AST SpaceMobile achieves space-based 5G call with smartphone

Friday, 27 October, 2023

AST SpaceMobile achieves space-based 5G call with smartphone

AST SpaceMobile, which is currently building a space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones, has made what it claims is the first ever 5G connection for voice and data between an unmodified smartphone and a satellite in space.

AST SpaceMobile’s technology is designed to expand coverage for wireless companies, filling in gaps and dead zones in their networks. Company engineers demonstrated space-based 5G connectivity by placing a call from Hawaii to Spain, using AT&T spectrum and AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 test satellite — understood to be the largest ever commercial communications array deployed in low Earth orbit.

The 5G call was placed on 8 September from an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone located in a wireless dead zone in Maui; 5G connectivity testing was completed with partners Vodafone, AT&T and Nokia. The milestone comes just months after AST SpaceMobile announced it had successfully completed the first direct voice connection from space to an everyday cellular device earlier this year.

Back in June, AST SpaceMobile revealed that it had achieved repeated successful download speeds of up to 10.3 Mbps during testing of BlueWalker 3 with off-the-shelf smartphones, plus further testing of voice calls to AT&T employees. The company has now broken this space-based cellular broadband data session record by achieving a download rate of approximately 14 Mbps. This technology has the potential to connect millions of people in the remotest regions to the internet for the first time, using existing mobile phones.

“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,” Abel Avellan, Chairman and CEO of AST SpaceMobile, said back in June. The company’s comprehensive testing program has continued since then, including additional voice calls, 4G video calls and now 5G cellular broadband connections. These speeds, beyond supporting basic voice and text, also enable browsing the internet, downloading files, using messaging apps, streaming video and more on everyday smartphones.

“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,” Avellan said.

“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. We are more confident than ever that space-based cellular broadband can help transform internet connectivity across the globe by filling in gaps and connecting the unconnected.”

Image caption: The space-based 5G voice call was made to José Guevara, a Vodafone engineer in Madrid.

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