Internet services group Rakuten and telecoms and technology service provider Vodafone have become the lead investors in a satellite venture that aims to extend mobile coverage to more people and devices across the planet.
The low-Earth-orbit (LEO), low-latency satellite network, called SpaceMobile, built by AST & Science, will be the first in the world to connect directly to standard smartphones.
SpaceMobile will, said AST & Science, eliminate the coverage gaps faced by today’s five billion mobile subscribers moving in and out of connectivity every day. “It will also help the world’s most underserved communities to access the latest mobile services much sooner than predicted, helping more people to access the digital economy,” said Abel Avellan, AST & Science chairman and CEO.
AST & Science will initially offer 4G services to partner networks globally, with 5G delivered in the future. The SpaceMobile network will enable seamless roaming to and from terrestrial cellular networks at comparable data rates without any need for specialised satellite hardware.
In addition to its investment in AST & Science, Vodafone has agreed to a strategic partnership and will contribute technical, operational and regulatory expertise in support of the global deployment of SpaceMobile.
Nick Read, CEO, Vodafone Group, explained: “We believe SpaceMobile is uniquely placed to provide universal mobile coverage, further enhancing our leading network across Europe and Africa – especially in rural areas and during a natural or humanitarian disaster – for customers on their existing smartphones.”
AST & Science successfully tested its SpaceMobile technology aboard the BlueWalker 1 satellite, launched in April 2019, and has been further validating the technology following that initial flight.