The licence covers AST’s pending BlueWalker 3 satellite and will operate using spectrum from AT&T

This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has agreed to allow AST SpaceMobile to test its direct-to-smartphone satellite technology in the US.

The tests will see AST’s soon-to-launch BlueWalker 3 satellite connect to customers unmodified smartphones, with the tests reportedly using “lowband cellular frequencies and Q/V-band frequencies”. Based on the company’s FCC application, at least some of the spectrum being used will be covered by three licences held by AT&T.

"We appreciate the diligent support of the FCC in providing the experimental license for our upcoming satellite launch," said AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan in a statement. "Together with other testing around the world, this license will enable us to conduct some of our most important testing here, at home, in the United States."

AST was founded back in 2017 as AST & Science, only becoming AST SpaceMobile last year following a merger with SPAC New Providence Acquisition Corp that valued the business at $1.8 billion.

Since its conception, AST has aimed to create a low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation called BlueBird, which can provide connectivity directly to customers’ mobile phones without any need for modified hardware, software, or applications. The planned constellation will be 170 satellites strong upon completion, with the first batch of 20 satellites due for launch next year. A further 90 satellites are planned for launch in 2024.

AST’s first test satellite, BlueWalker 1, was launched in 2019. Successful trials, a second test satellite, BlueWalker 2, was initially planned for launch in 2021, but this was ultimately cancelled in favour of the larger BlueWalker 3, which will be launched later this year with the help of SpaceX.

As part of its licencing announcement, AST also revealed that it had struck a new partnership with the Philippines’ largest mobile operator, Globe Telecom, aiming to use its burgeoning satellite network to help provide coverage to the operators most remote customers. 

"The Philippines’ thousands of islands create formidable challenges to meet a growing demand for cellular broadband connectivity," said Chris Ivory, chief commercial officer of AST SpaceMobile. “We believe our planned space-based network solution is well-suited to help, and we’re excited to work with Globe.”

The company already has commercial agreements with Vodafone and AT&T, with Memorandums of Understanding also signed with Telefonica, Indosat Ooredoo, Tigo, Telstra, Orange and others. Taken together, these agreements could see AST servicing more than 1.8 billion mobile customers.

AST is targeting an initial commercial launch for 2023.

Want to keep up to date with the latest developments in the world of telecoms? Subscriber to receive Total Telecom’s daily newsletter 
Also in the news: