Space-based cellular for Africa?

Space-based cellular for Africa?

Yet another satellite-based communications initiative aimed at the underserved has recently been announced, this time by Vodafone and cellular satellite network provider AST SpaceMobile.

The two companies have partnered to launch the first phase of a space-based commercial mobile communications service in 2023. AST SpaceMobile has secured the necessary funding to take the venture to this next stage, which will cover the 49 largest countries in the equatorial regions.

Vodafone says it wants to ensure that its customers are always connected, and that everyone benefits from a digital society. Hence its partnership with AST SpaceMobile, which, it says, is uniquely positioned to provide universal mobile coverage to rural areas in Africa and, in the future, Europe.

AST SpaceMobile will be the first service of its kind to connect standard mobile phones at 4G and 5G speeds using its patented space-based network. Today, more than five billion mobile subscribers constantly move in and out of wireless coverage, and this solution, the companies say, will fill these coverage gaps to enable people to stay connected while on the move.

Traditional satellite systems require expensive specialized satellite phones or ground antenna systems. AST SpaceMobile says that with its patented technology all that is needed is the phone in an end user’s pocket.

The first part 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 across a vast geographical region.

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 in each market, these will include DRC, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania. AST SpaceMobile will also apply for regulatory approval to launch the service in India.

The space-based mobile network will also enable the partnership to provide instant communications in the event of a natural or humanitarian disaster.

In order to support the phase one commercial launch of its network, AST SpaceMobile has secured up to US$462 million in gross proceeds in additional financing.

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