AST SpaceMobile, a cellular satellite firm backed by the American telco AT&T, has successfully established a 5G connection between an unmodified smartphone and a satellite in space, marking a significant milestone.
The groundbreaking test, conducted using a Samsung Galaxy S22 and in partnership with Vodafone and Nokia, occurred on September 8, 2023. The call originated from a wireless dead zone in Maui, Hawaii, and was received by a Vodafone engineer located in Madrid, Spain. The achievement was made possible by utilizing AT&T’s 5G spectrum and AST SpaceMobile’s low Earth orbit (LEO) test satellite, known as BlueWalker 3 (BW3).
Leading up to this achievement, AST SpaceMobile had conducted several tests. In April, the company completed its first space-based phone call over AT&T’s 2G network. Subsequently, it transmitted a 4G LTE signal from space, which was successfully received on a standard smartphone, showcasing 10Mbps download speeds. However, AST SpaceMobile has since surpassed this download speed record, achieving a rate of approximately 14Mbps in a separate test.
Abel Avellan, the CEO of AST SpaceMobile, emphasized the significance of this technological advancement, heralding it as a transformative step in information access. Avellan noted that since the launch of BW3, the company has ensured compatibility with phones from major manufacturers, supporting 2G, 4G LTE, and now 5G.
While Apple introduced emergency texting via satellite with the iPhone 14, and T-Mobile is collaborating on satellite connectivity with SpaceX’s Starlink, AST SpaceMobile is pioneering space-based phone calls by harnessing the speed and capabilities that 5G has to offer. The company is set to launch five commercial BlueBird satellites in the first quarter of the upcoming year, further advancing its mission.