A significant achievement was recently made with the successful completion of a space-based two-way voice call using standard smartphones. According to a press release, this breakthrough technology has the potential to provide space-based cellular connectivity to nearly half of the world’s population who remain unconnected.
In contrast to traditional cellular networks that rely on mobile towers, which leave certain areas without cellular coverage, AST SpaceMobile, a satellite designer and manufacturer, aims to provide space-based cellular access to users without requiring special equipment. This innovative approach enables users to use their existing smartphones for connectivity.
AST SpaceMobile accomplished the historic space-based two-way voice call by leveraging AT&T’s cellular network and a Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone from their facility in Midland, Texas. The call was received via the Rakuten network in Japan, connected through AST’s BlueWalker3 (BW3) satellite, which is the largest communication array deployed in space this far.
The preparation and testing of the first call involved engineers from AT&T, Rakuten, and Vodafone to validate AST’s system and architecture. AST SpaceMobile’s engineers also conducted compatibility tests with various smartphones and devices, exchanging Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) and network information directly with the BW3 satellite, a crucial step towards delivering satellite-based connectivity.
While companies like SpaceX aim to provide internet services using satellite constellations, special equipment is required for access, making AST SpaceMobile’s approach all the more promising for providing space-based cellular access to a wider population.