The test was carried out with support from AT&T, Vodafone, and Rakuten Mobile in what the satellite operator claims to be an industry first
Today, US based AST SpaceMobile has announced the results of a successful test that saw it conduct the world’s first ever voice call over satellite using unmodified smartphones.
The call took place in Midland, Texas, over AT&T’s network, using AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite to connect to the recipient on Rakuten Mobile’s network in Japan.
“Achieving what many once considered impossible, we have reached the most significant milestone to date in our quest to deliver global cellular broadband from space. While we take a moment to celebrate this tremendous accomplishment, we remain focused on the path ahead and pivotal next steps that get us closer to our goal of transforming the way the world connects,” said Abel Avellan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AST SpaceMobile. “I am immensely proud of our team and our incredible partners, whose unwavering dedication and tireless efforts have brought us to this pivotal moment.”
Additional tests were also performed to verify the transfer of SIM information to BlueWalker 3, as well as to test the uplink and downlink rates of 4G and 5G signals.
The BlueWalker 3 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite itself was launched in September last year and serves as a protype for AST SpaceMobile’s planned commercial satellites, called BlueBirds. Ultimately, AST hopes to deliver direct-to-mobile satellite services to customers around the world using these BlueBirds and has already secured contracts with numerous operators to this effect.
AT&T itself partnered with AST in December last year, saying the planned satellite constellation would help boost the operator’s coverage across rural America.
For now, it is unclear whether access to the satellite for connectivity would be included in existing mobile packages or would come at an extra cost, with AT&T previously said it was “too early” to make such a decision.
The US telecoms space race appears to be well underway, with all three of the American wireless giants having already struck partnerships with LEO players.
For AT&T, their primary partner is UK-based LEO OneWeb, while rival T-Mobile is partnered with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to use the Starlink satellite constellation. Both of these companies already have satellites in orbit; Starlink has around 4,000 satellites circling the Earth so far, while OneWeb is just one launch away from achieving the total number of devices it needs to provide global coverage.
Verizon, on the other hand, has a deal to use Amazon’s fledgling satellite programme, Project Kuiper, which is aiming to launch its first satellites into orbit in 2024.
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