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AST & Science's SpaceMobile to Beam 4G / 5G Directly to Devices

Rakuten and Vodafone have become the lead investors in a venture to extend mobile coverage to more people and devices across the planet, using the first mobile broadband network that will be broadcast from space. The venture also has other investors includeing American Tower; Cisneros; Samsung NEXT; and founder Abel Avellan. A Japanese news site reported that Rakuten will be the biggest investor.

Rakuten has already said that they want to provide 100% geographic (not population based, which is easier) coverage in Japan. This point was emphasized by Rakuten Mobile's CTO Tareq Amin in a recently released video.

Vodafone's press release also mentioned some of the reasons they have invested in AST:

Branded SpaceMobile, the low-Earth-orbit (LEO), low-latency satellite network from AST & Science will be the first in the world to connect directly to standard smartphones. The company holds an extensive patent and IP portfolio for its ground and space technologies.

AST & Science will initially offer 4G services to partner networks globally, with 5G delivered in the future. The SpaceMobile network will enable seamless roaming to and from terrestrial cellular networks at comparable data rates without any need for specialised satellite hardware.            

In addition to its investment in AST & Science, Vodafone has agreed to a strategic partnership and will contribute technical, operational and regulatory expertise in support of the global deployment of SpaceMobile.

AST & Science successfully tested its SpaceMobile technology aboard the BlueWalker 1 satellite, launched in April 2019, and has been further validating the technology following that initial flight.

The new investment brings the total capital raised by AST & Science to US$128 million, including the early investments from Cisneros and founder Abel Avellan. Barclays served as financial advisor to the company.

Johan Wibergh, Group CTO, Vodafone explained (see tweet above) why this is so important because your existing smartphones can connect to the satellites.

According to Abel Avelan, CEO of AST, the company's low-Earth orbit satellites will be installed between 500 and 700 km above ground level. It is said that Japan can be covered by four satellites, and not only ships but also aircraft in the area can communicate without special antennas.

Some competitors, such as HAPS Mobile, are aiming to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles with base stations in the stratosphere. He noted that such an effort would require 40-50 facilities.

According to AST, it is expected that the number of deployed devices (satellite) will be small, which is one of the merits. One of its strengths is that it can cover the world in addition to Japan.

According to Avelan, the satellites will be modular, making them cheaper to manufacture. He said it will be less burdensome for carriers in emerging and developing countries as well as in developed countries.

According to the company, about 30 patents have been patented for its modular design, which "changes the way satellites are made. When our new system comes out, existing satellite systems will be thrown out of windows." Show confidence.

According to Avelan, satellites in geosynchronous orbit will have a delay of about 600 ms, but communication delays from AST low-orbit satellites will be about 20 ms.

The power consumption of the smartphone is about the same as a base station about 3 km away. According to the design of the satellite, the aperture is made larger so that radio waves can reach a greater distance, thereby reducing power consumption on the smartphone side.

There is no need to attach special antennas to aircraft, and AST does not intend to sell to airlines or aircraft manufacturers because its partner is a mobile phone operator. "If the aircraft lands, the radio waves will reach and the mobile phone will connect. Just like that, the radio waves from low-Earth orbit satellites will reach the cabin." This is due to the size of the satellite and the size of the aperture on the satellite antenna.

While this is all impressive, there are lots of open questions on how it will be done. Surely there is some amazing trick that most people have missed that will come handy here. Like what it says above "According to the design of the satellite, the aperture is made larger so that radio waves can reach a greater distance, thereby reducing power consumption on the smartphone side.". I am not the only one with questions, Dean Bubley has written a thread on same:

We have written about other initiatives to increase the coverage range. Telstra and Ericsson for example announced that they have doubled the range of LTE cell from 100 km to 200 km recently. On the other hand the SpaceMobile solution seem to be able to travel between 500 & 700 km.

The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) has also started the Non-Terrestrial Connectivity Solutions (NTCS) group to look at 4G / 5G solutions based on HAPS and LEO satellites. Vodafone and Telefonica are working group leads for that project.

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