Satellite manufacturer makes first-ever 'space-based voice call' using standard smartphones

The call was placed from Texas in the US to Japan using AST SpaceMobile's technology.
Ameya Paleja
Representation of BW3 in Low Earth Orbit.
Representation of BW3 in Low Earth Orbit.


The first ever space-based two-way voice call was made using standard smartphones recently. The technology could be crucial in providing space-based cellular connectivity to nearly 50 percent of the global population that remains unconnected even today, according to a press release.

Cellular networks require mobile towers to provide service in a particular area. However, even in developed countries like the U.S., there are many "dead zones" in areas such as national parks or rural communities where no cellular networks exist.

Companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX are looking to provide internet services using satellite constellations but they need special equipment to gain access. Satellite designer and manufacturer AST SpaceMobile is also looking to provide space-based cellular access to users but with a twist. The users do not need special gadgets; they can continue using their existing smartphones.

Satellite manufacturer makes first-ever 'space-based voice call' using standard smartphones
Chairman & CEO Abel Avellan and an AST SpaceMobile engineer completing test calls in Texas.

Space-based voice call

AST SpaceMobile made the call from their facility in Midland, Texas using AT&T's cellular network and a Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone. The receiver network for the call was Rakuten, based in Japan, through AST's BlueWalker3 (BW3) satellite, the largest ever communication array that has been deployed in space so far.

Engineers from AT&T, Rakuten, and Vodafone participated in the preparation and testing of the first call which is an important step in the validation of AST's system and architecture.

In addition to the voice call, AST SpaceMobile's engineers also conducted initial compatibility tests using a variety of smartphones and devices. In these tests, the smartphones successfully exchanged Subscriber Identification Module or SIM and network information directly with the BW3 satellite, a crucial step for delivering satellite-based connectivity.

Apart from voice services, AST also plans to deliver space-based cellular broadband across 2G, 3G, 4G LTE, and 5G technologies and tested the uplink and downlink signal strength to confirm the ability to support these services.

Last year, Apple announced that its latest iPhone would be able to use satellite communication to connect with emergency services when cellular networks are unavailable. However, AST SpaceMobile's technology provides this service across smartphones and at all times.

The company already has existing agreements with mobile network operators with over two billion existing customers globally who could hop on the services when available. Moreover, they can also provide these services in developing countries with little to no access to land-based cellular networks.

For those in the developed world, it isn't clear if the satellite connectivity for existing smartphones will come at an extra cost or be included in existing plans. Now, we wait to see how mobile network operators play this out but they will surely give SpaceX a run for its money.

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