A satellite network provider announced Tuesday that it has successfully used its space hardware to make a voice and data call from an unmodified smartphone.
The 5G call, the first of its kind, was made from Maui, Hawaii, to a Vodafone engineer in Madrid, Spain, using AT&T spectrum and AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 test satellite.
AST said the call was made on September 8 from a wireless dead zone near Hana, Hawaii, using a Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone.
He added that in a separate test, the company, which is building a spatial broadband cellular network, broke its previous record for data sessions by achieving a download speed of 14 Mbps.
“Since the launch of BlueWalker 3, we have achieved full compatibility with phones from all major manufacturers and support for 2G, 4G LTE and now 5G.” Abel Avellan, CEO of AST, said in a statement.
“Successfully achieving the first 5G cellular broadband connections from space directly to mobile phones,” he continued, “is yet another significant advancement in telecommunications that AST SpaceMobile has pioneered.”
“These moments represent extraordinary milestones in the history of telecommunications,” added AT&T Network President Chris Sambar in a statement.
“These first-of-its-kind innovations would not be possible without ecosystem-wide collaboration,” he said. “We are all working together to realize a shared vision of space connectivity for consumers, businesses and first responders around the world. »
Call to small subsets
The AST call is another demonstration of what’s possible with 5G, noted Jason Leigh, senior research analyst for mobility at IDC, a global research and market company.
“Real applications, whether for consumers or businesses, remain relatively distant,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Satellite coverage won’t be hugely important to most people, said Michael Hodel, director of equity research for the media and telecommunications sector at Morningstar Research Services in Chicago.
“A small subset of the population that spends a lot of time outside of typical network coverage areas might be very interested in satellite capabilities on their smartphones, eliminating the need for a separate satellite phone,” he said. he told TechNewsWorld.
“I suspect the average consumer won’t be willing to pay more for satellite access month after month,” he continued, “but I see it periodically attracting people when they travel to remote areas. “
Reluctance to pay more
There is no doubt that satellites today provide cost-effective communications solutions, as they do for airlines, added John Strand of Strand Consult in Denmark, a consulting firm specializing in telecommunications.
“The business case is good, and when people fly,” he told TechNewsWorld, “the willingness to pay for Internet access is very high.”
He was less optimistic about the technology’s popularity with most consumers. “It’s easier to write stories about what you can do with the combination of mobile and satellite than to charge customers for additional features,” he said.
“The big questions are whether customers are willing to pay extra to be able to use a satellite connection on their mobile phone,” he observed, “and how much a mobile operator is willing to pay for its customers to have access to an additional network. .”
“I don’t believe the willingness to pay is high,” he said. “Plus, if you’re a satellite company, you’re competing with better cell coverage and Wi-Fi in many locations. »
However, Michael Misrahi, head of Americas telecommunications for global professional services firm Ernst & Young, says there is a real need for 5G satellite service.
“From a consumer perspective,” he told TechNewsWorld, “a fully interoperable terrestrial and non-terrestrial network will provide comprehensive coverage that is not limited by towers and terrestrial radio units.”
“This also serves to improve the network infrastructure in its use of backhaul, particularly for maritime and rural applications,” he said.
“From an enterprise perspective,” he continued, “this creates an interoperable network that can provide connectivity, security and leverage different connectivity infrastructures to ensure that devices and use cases requiring connectivity with 100% availability are connected regardless of shape and location, even at sea or in the air.
“This makes digital transformations and adoption of enterprise use cases in IoT, AI and elsewhere technically viable and undisturbed by single infrastructure failure or potentially by boundaries,” a- he added.
The main driver of 5G satellite service is the 2.6 billion unconnected people around the world, said Octavio Garcia, principal analyst at Forrester, a market research firm headquartered in Cambridge. in Massachusetts.
“It should be understood, however, that the first use cases for 5G satellite, expected in the next two to three years, are oriented towards emergency calls and messages and low data transmissions below 75 Mbps,” he said. -he declared to TechNewsWorld.
Lack of internet access is considered a significant social problem, so any technological solution that can meaningfully close this gap is important, Leigh added.
“At the same time,” he continued, “I think iPhone’s current use of satellite demonstrates some of the limitations of the current state of cellular connectivity from space.”
“The AST test resulted in a download speed of 14 Mbps – which doesn’t even meet the FCC’s definition of broadband, which starts at download speeds of 25 Mbps,” he explained. “This means that satellite, for now, is really a connectivity of last resort with relatively little utility at scale other than the type of emergency services use on the current iPhone.”
The future of wireless
Much remains unknown about the satellite industry, Hodel noted. Elon Musk’s Starlink network has been a game-changer in the past two years, he said, removing exclusivity from the service provided by a small number of large geosynchronous satellites.
“Using a fleet of tens of thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit could significantly increase the amount of capacity available and reduce the cost of providing that capacity,” he said.
“However,” he continued, “there is clearly a coordination problem as more and more companies, like Amazon’s Kuiper, attempt to enter this sector. It is not yet clear how the use of physical space and frequencies will be managed between competing interests and countries.
Nonetheless, some see the future of wireless communications in orbit around Earth. “5G satellite service for voice and data is the next step in wireless,” observed technology analyst Jeff Kagan.
“In the future, we will see more advanced satellite and wireless services converge,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We will see complete connectivity between smartphone, smartwatch, laptop and other wireless devices with satellites.”