A prototype satellite developed by AST SpaceMobile has set a new record by delivering a 14Mbps download rate, allowing unmodified smartphones to access the internet. The successful test was conducted last month in Maui, Hawaii, where the satellite beamed internet to a phone located in a remote area. The phone was then able to conduct a video call using 4G spectrum.
In a separate test this month, a Samsung Galaxy S22 handset also successfully made a phone call from a “wireless dead zone” in Hawaii to Spain using AT&T’s 5G radio spectrum via the orbiting satellite. This achievement is remarkable considering AT&T is still in the process of implementing voice over 5G on its ground-based cellular networks. The phone call quality was clear, as shown in a video of the call. Vodafone and Nokia were also involved in facilitating the test.
AST SpaceMobile has been utilizing the BlueWalker 3 test satellite, which was launched in November, to power space-based phone calls and broadband. The satellite is equipped with the largest communication array in low-Earth orbit, enabling it to function as a cell tower in space. Earlier this year, the BlueWalker 3 satellite successfully completed a phone call and a 10Mbps download using 4G spectrum. The recent test demonstrates the satellite’s capability to utilize AT&T’s 5G radio spectrum as well.
AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan stated that the technology has achieved full compatibility with phones from major manufacturers, supporting 2G, 4G LTE, and now 5G. Although specific details regarding latency and coverage limitations have not been disclosed, the technology shows promise in providing easier internet access for users in remote areas. Apart from basic voice and text services, the speeds also allow for browsing the internet, downloading files, using messaging apps, and streaming video on everyday smartphones.
Commercial service is planned to be launched sometime next year, with the company’s intention to deploy five finalized “BlueBird” satellites in Q1 2024. AST SpaceMobile recently secured an additional $115 million in financing through loans to support the construction of these satellites.