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Operators Are Looking Up to SpaceMobile for All Gs and IoT Connectivity

Last year we wrote about how Rakuten and Vodafone have joined forces by becoming 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 directly from space

In our earlier blog post, we mentioned how AST & Science's SpaceMobile will beam 4G / 5G directly to devices. In the recent investor presentation deck, they claim that the satellites will be able to provide all generations of mobile cellular technology; 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G and even NB-IoT. 

The Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, when launched, will be at 700km altitude which will allow them to offer a far lower latency as compared to MEO/GEO satellites. The low and mid-band spectrum would be shared with wireless partners on non-interference basis. Put simply, the satellites would use the spectrum from the operator as it is the most expensive resource otherwise.

Back in December, Reuters reported:

Satellite network company AST & Science said on Wednesday it had agreed to be taken public by blank-check firm New Providence Acquisition Corp in a deal that values the combined firm at $1.4 billion including debt...

The merged entity will list on the Nasdaq under the symbol “ASTS”, the company said.

New Providence Acquisition is a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that raised $230 million in its initial public offering in September 2019.

A SPAC is a shell company that buys an operating entity, typically within two years, and has emerged as a quick route to the stock market for companies this year such as Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc and DraftKings Inc.

In another article, Light Reading reported:

...said it expects to begin delivering commercial services to Vodafone's customers in Africa starting in 2023.

Vodafone's customers across the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania will be able to sign on for SpaceMobile's services in 2023 with a simple text message:

Doing so will allow those customers to connect their existing cell phones directly to the 100 or so low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites SpaceMobile expects to operate around the Earth's equator in the next two years. The technology essentially promises to eliminate all cellular dead zones in Northern Africa without requiring Vodafone customers to purchase a new device.

SpaceMobile said its agreement with Vodafone is based on a 50/50 revenue share business model. SpaceMobile will operate as a wholesaler of its service, selling it to network operators like Vodafone and others.

SpaceMobile said it expects to sign up 9 million customers to its service by the end of 2023, and that each of those customers will generate average monthly revenues for SpaceMobile of around $1.

Thus, the company said it expects total revenues of around $181 million and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of around $130 million in 2023.

But the company expects those figures to blossom in the next few years as it expands its service to other customers such as AT&T. SpaceMobile said it expects total revenues of $9.7 billion and EBITDA of $9.6 billion by 2027.

SpaceMobile said it has also signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with operators including Tigo, Telstra, Liberty Latin America, Indosat (Ooredo) and Telefonica.

As for the logistics of getting its satellites into space, the company said it will use equipment from suppliers such as NEC, Safran and Dialog Semiconductors, and that it could work with satellite launch companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

The company said it expects to operate roughly 233 commercial satellites by 2027, offering services targeted to both enterprises and consumers around the world.

However, SpaceMobile still faces regulatory obstacles. For example, NASA officials recently worried that SpaceMobile's proposed satellites could collide with existing objects in orbit, though those NASA officials subsequently said they're now working with the company and expect SpaceMobile's satellites eventually "will enable safe operations in space." T-Mobile and Verizon – two other potential SpaceMobile customers – have also registered their opposition to the company's efforts.

ArsTechnica has a nice short summary here regarding why NASA is objecting to new mega-constellation, citing risk of “catastrophic collision”.

This is a very challenging and ambitious project. If and when it succeeds, it will change the dynamics of mobile network deployment, especially in rural areas. Right now I have many unanswered questions but overcoming challenges is the key to innovation here.

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