AST SpaceMobile

AT&T has reached a long-term agreement with AST SpaceMobile to offer satellite-to-cellphone service. Importantly, the service will not require special devices but will work with standard cellphones.

The goal is to provide connectivity in remote areas where cellular connectivity is not available. The companies have been testing the technology using AST SpaceMobile low earth orbit satellites and AT&T spectrum.

Testing has included voice, text and data connectivity, although today’s announcement did not detail whether all those services would be supported at the initial service launch, nor did it specify when that launch will occur. However, the companies did refer to the service as “broadband,” suggesting that data would be part of the plans.

AT&T is a part owner of AST SpaceMobile, along with overseas providers Vodafone and Rakuten. AST SpaceMobile told Telecompetitor last year that it is also working with wireless providers in other parts of the world that are interested in launching their own satellite-to-cellphone services.

The agreement between AT&T and AST SpaceMobile extends through 2030. The satellite company expects to launch five LEO satellites this summer to support the offering.

“Space-based direct-to-mobile technology is designed to provide customers connectivity by complementing and integrating with our existing mobile network,” said Jeff McElfresh, AT&T chief operating officer for AT&T, in a prepared statement.

“This agreement is the next step in our industry leadership to use emerging satellite technologies to provide services to consumers and in locations where connectivity was not previously feasible.”

AT&T and AST SpaceMobile aren’t the only companies aiming to provide satellite-to-cellphone service in the U.S.

SpaceX and T-Mobile have a similar deal that will use T-Mobile spectrum, but that service initially is expected only to support text service. Voice and data service were expected to be added at a future date.

And Apple offers a satellite-to-cellphone emergency service that doesn’t use cellular spectrum.

It’s also worth noting that Verizon has a deal with Amazon involving Amazon’s Project Kuiper LEO service, but initial plans only call for using the satellite connectivity for cellular backhaul.

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