Smart Communications, a leading mobile services provider in the Philippines, and AST SpaceMobile, which is building a space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by mobile phones, have signed a memorandum of understanding.
AST SpaceMobile is, it says, building the first and only global broadband cellular network in space to operate directly with standard, unmodified mobile devices, based on its extensive IP and patent portfolio.
This collaboration with Smart aims to look into opportunities to offer the SpaceMobile service to Smart’s customers in rural communities, allowing the company to offer affordable broadband cellular access to the unconnected “for the first time ever”, as Abel Avellan, chairman and CEO of AST SpaceMobile puts it.
The combined effort proposed by the companies would look at ways of extending SpaceMobile cellular broadband connectivity to the Philippines mainland along with its islands (there are more than 7,000 across the Philippines) and the surrounding waters.
Under the MoU, AST SpaceMobile will seek to offer cellular broadband network coverage to approximately 70 million Smart subscribers following the execution of definitive agreements and the successful launch of the SpaceMobile service.
Of course this is just part of a wider coverage plan. Once deployed, AST SpaceMobile says its services will eliminate connectivity gaps faced by at least five billion mobile subscribers and bring cellular broadband to approximately half of the world’s population who remain unconnected, in collaboration with major mobile network operators and wireless infrastructure companies, including Vodafone Group, Rakuten and American Tower.
As for when the service will be up and running, AST is planning its first commercial satellite launches for the second half of 2022 or early 2023; these are expected to provide satellite coverage in 49 countries along the Equator with 20 satellites.
AST plans to achieve full global mobile coverage with 110 satellites by the end of 2023 or early in 2024 – and 5G support with a total of 168 satellites by the end of 2024.