Saturday, April 13, 2024

Cellular satellite successfully beams 4G data from space to regular phone

AST SpaceMobile, a Texas company building a space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones, has successfully tested the BlueWalker 3 low Earth orbit satellite.

In another first-ever milestone, the BlueWalker 3 satellite communicated with everyday smartphones reaching initial download speeds above 10 Mbps, by beaming 4G signals to smartphones. The space-based cellular communications at 4G seeds using unmodified smartphones is another world-first telecommunications achievement by AST SpaceMobile.

Engineers carried out a series of download speed tests in Hawaii during June using multiple everyday, off-the-shelf smartphones. The 4G LTE download speed testing, which used AT&T spectrum and Nokia RAN technology, reached initial seeds up to 10.3 Mbps, with further testing of voice calls to AT&T employees. Evaluation of BlueWalker 3’s capabilities continues, with the enablement of 5G cellular broadband as the next major test activity.

“Successfully reaching double-digit download speeds during satellite-to-smartphone testing takes us one step closer to ensuring people across the United States will be able to stay connected no matter their location. This milestone wouldn’t be possible without the overall focus and determination of the teams working daily to achieve our shared space-based vision of connectivity,” said Chris Sambar, Head of AT&T Network.

In the next step, AST hopes to connect a phone to BW3 over a 5G signal.

“Achieving this milestone from an unmodified, standard cell phone on the ground connecting through our low Earth orbit satellite is another groundbreaking moment in telecommunications history and an important step toward AST SpaceMobile’s goal of bringing broadband services to parts of the world where cellular coverage is either unreliable or simply does not exist today,” said Abel Avellan, Chairman and CEO of AST SpaceMobile.

The BlueWalker 3 satellite was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in September last year. The BW3 is the largest-ever commercial communications array deployed in low-Earth orbit and designed to communicate directly with cellular devices via 3GPP standard frequencies at 5G speeds. In its now unfolded position, the satellite spans 693 square feet in size, a design feature critical to support a space-based cellular broadband network.

AST SpaceMobile technology is designed to expand coverage for wireless companies, filling in gaps and dead zones in their networks. This could help bring cellular broadband services to hundreds of millions of people across the globe who still lack access to reliable cellular service. The company has agreements and understandings with more than 35 mobile network operators globally that have approximately 2 billion existing subscribers.