Telecommunications firm AST & Science, in partnership with Vodafone, plans to launch the first phase of a space-based commercial mobile communications service in 2023, a move which will boost phone coverage in Africa.
SpaceMobile will be the first space-based mobile network to connect directly to 4G and 5G smartphones without any need for specialised hardware. Traditional satellite systems require expensive specialized satellite phones or ground antenna systems.
A statement dated Wednesday said AST SpaceMobile had secured up to $462-million in additional financing from existing investors in the company including Vodafone, Rakuten and American Tower as well as new financial investors.
The first phase of the project aims to transform mobile network coverage for the 49 largest countries in Africa’s equatorial region including Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania from 2023.
Currently, more than five billion mobile subscribers constantly move in and out of wireless coverage, and AST SpaceMobile’s solution will fill these coverage gaps to enable people to stay connected whilst on the move, a significant breakthrough in bringing affordable mobile connectivity to more than half of the world’s population without internet on their phone.
“Our high-speed, low latency platform represents the world’s first venture aimed at massively closing the digital divide by bringing affordable and accessible connectivity to the regions that need it most,” AST SpaceMobile chairman and chief executive officer Abel Avellan said.
“We believe our game-changing solution will serve to drive universal and global connectivity, allowing societies to utilize digital technology to gain greater access to knowledge and information.”
The first tranche of AST SpaceMobile’s launch plans will involve the use of 20 satellites to offer seamless, low-latency mobile connectivity that can be accessed by approximately 1.6 billion people.
The initial service will target an area north and south of the equator, including rural and remote areas of a number of markets where Vodafone will integrate the technology into the services provided by its Vodacom, Safaricom and Vodafone brands.
Subject to regulatory approval, these will include the DRC, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania.
AST SpaceMobile will also apply for regulatory approval to launch the service in India.
“Providing affordable mobile coverage for everyone requires a blend of technologies and infrastructure, from traditional masts to small cells, balloons and satellites at the edge of space,” said Shameel Joosub, chief executive officer of South Africa-based Vodafone subsidiary Vodacom.
“While we have been adding deep rural network sites to connect remote communities without any coverage, the lack of power in some areas creates insurmountable obstacles. AST SpaceMobile will ensure that remote communities in many sub-Saharan African countries can have access to the latest digital services.”