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Vodafone Backed AST Space Mobile Make First 5G Call via Satellite

Tuesday, Sep 19th, 2023 (2:53 pm) - Score 2,272

AST SpaceMobile, which is backed by Vodafone and several other mobile operators around the world, has followed up their earlier achievements in two-way 4G calling by harnessing their prototype BlueWalker 3 satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to make the first space-based 5G internet voice call using a regular handset.

The new 1.5-ton BlueWalker 3 satellite – orbiting at an altitude of a little over 500km – features a huge 693-square-foot (64.4-square-meter) phased array antenna (here). The spacecraft is specifically designed for sending and receiving 4G and 5G mobile signals between the space-based platform and regular mobile handsets on the ground, as it has a Field of View (FoV) of over 300,000 square miles across the surface of the Earth.

A few months ago saw AST-SM harness this prototype satellite to make the first 4G voice call between the Midland area in Texas (USA) and Rakuten in Japan, which adopted AT&T’s spectrum using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone. The latest successful test uses the same setup, albeit this time for a 5G voice call between a location in Hawaii and a Vodafone engineer, José Guevara, in Spain.

In a separate test, AST-SM also broke its previous space-based cellular mobile broadband data session record by achieving a download rate of nearly 14Mbps, which might not seem like much, but it’s a key proof of concept. “This new technology has the potential to connect millions of people in the remotest regions to the internet for the first-time using existing mobile phones,” said Vodafone’s announcement.

Margherita Della Valle, Vodafone Group CEO, said:

“Vodafone is striving to close the mobile usage gap for millions of people across Europe and Africa. By making the world’s first space-based 5G call to Europe, we have taken another important step in realising that ambition. We’re excited to be at the forefront of space technology through our partnership with AST SpaceMobile.”

Today’s advancement is part of AST SpaceMobile’s path toward its first goal of launching 5 commercial BlueBird satellites in the first quarter of 2024 (these will initially be of a similar size to BW3). But the company also holds an aspiration toward launching a total of 100 satellites, with future models being even larger and more capable.

The eventual aim is to make this service attractive for regular consumers (we suspect this may form part of a ‘global roaming’ style add-on for your plan, at extra cost), although it’s too early to talk about costs. Much may also depend upon their ability to deploy enough ground stations and to secure regulatory approval for related radio spectrum across multiple countries.

Lest we forget that various other space companies, such as Starlink (here) and OneWeb (here), are also moving to harness their new ultrafast broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to deliver affordable 4G (LTE) and 5G mobile services – using common standards – over a wide area (global roaming), often even without consumers needing to buy a new handset. Time will tell who has the most success, but AST’s approach is at least tailor-made for it.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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5 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Bubbles says:

    That’s WhatsApp… I smell a lie

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      They do say “5G internet call”, so I’d guess 5G data via WhatsApp. But I do agree, this is detail they should make clear, as it doesn’t look like a true New Radio Voice Call.

  2. Avatar photo Ben says:

    Hmm… How do satellites receive 4G / 5G signals from normal handsets? Surely the signal would be incredibly weak once it’s travelled all the way to the satellite?

    1. Avatar photo anon says:

      somehow satellite phones manage it with a maximum of 3 watts. A regular mobile phone has a maximum output about the same as well.

    2. Avatar photo Dan says:

      I think it probably comes down to very clever antenna design and lots of amplification on the satellite side.

Comments are closed

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