Tue. Sep 26th, 2023
AST Space Mobile’s Blue Walker 3 Satellite Successfully Completes 5G Phone Call in a Cellular Dead Zone

AST Space Mobile announced that its Blue Walker 3 test satellite, which has been in orbit for a year, recently completed its first 5G phone call to an ordinary smartphone in a cellular dead zone. An engineer with a Samsung Galaxy S22 phone in Hana, Hawaii, successfully connected with the satellite on September 8th and spoke with another engineer in Spain for nearly two minutes.

AST Space Mobile used the most advanced mobile networking standard to achieve this milestone. In a separate test, the company also achieved download rates of around 14 megabits per second, surpassing the speeds recorded over 4G in June.

AST Space Mobile has secured funds to launch its first five Block 1 BlueBird satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO) early next year. Each satellite will be the same size as Blue Walker 3 and will enable intermittent connectivity for initial device-monitoring services. The company is also searching for funds to build more powerful BlueBird satellites that would be double the size. It aims to have around 90 BlueBird satellites to provide a global 5G service and keep subscribers connected beyond their cell towers.

The 5G tests were conducted using wireless spectrum from AT&T, which was received by Blue Walker 3’s 64-square-meter phased array antenna. The signals were then transmitted back into Vodafone’s terrestrial network in Spain. AT&T is also seeking permission to lease terrestrial frequencies to AST Space Mobile on a commercial basis in the United States.

AST Space Mobile and other direct-to-device companies are awaiting a regulatory framework from the Federal Communications Commission to govern the emerging industry. Lynk Global, a direct-to-device venture based in Virginia, has already launched commercially in Palau and the Cook Islands with spectrum from local telco partners.

Analysts have differing views on the growth of the direct-to-device market. Lynk CEO Charles Miller believes the market could reach $1 billion in annual revenue in less than five years, while Iridium chief operating officer Suzi McBride predicts it will take around 10 years to reach this level.