Rakuten and Vodafone are now the leading investors in a venture to extend mobile coverage to more people and devices around the planet, using the first satellite-based mobile broadband network.
SpaceMobile, a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network from AST & Science, will be the first to connect directly to standard smartphones. The SpaceMobile network will enable seamless roaming to and from terrestrial cellular networks at comparable data rates without specialized satellite hardware. The LEO constellation will provide a low latency link between the satellite and phone.
“SpaceMobile will be particularly transformative to the growing $1 trillion annual global mobile market because it will eliminate the coverage gaps faced by today’s five billion mobile subscribers moving in and out of connectivity every day. It will also help the world’s most under-served communities to access the latest mobile services much sooner than predicted, helping more people to access the digital economy,” said Abel Avellan, AST & Science chairman and CEO.
SpaceMobile will initially offer 4G services to partner networks, adding 5G in the future.
AST & Science successfully tested its SpaceMobile technology aboard the BlueWalker 1 satellite, which was launched in April 2019, and has been validating the technology following that initial flight. The company has an extensive patent and IP portfolio for its ground and space technologies.
The investment by Rakuten and Vodafone brings the total capital raised by AST & Science to $128 million, including early investments from Cisneros and founder Abel Avellan.
Vodafone has agreed to a strategic partnership and will contribute technical, operational and regulatory expertise to support the global deployment of SpaceMobile.
Nick Read, Vodafone group CEO, said, “At Vodafone, we want to ensure everyone benefits from a digital society — that no one is left behind. We believe SpaceMobile is uniquely placed to provide universal mobile coverage, further enhancing our leading network across Europe and Africa — especially in rural areas and during a natural or humanitarian disaster — for customers on their existing smartphones.”
Mickey Mikitani, chairman and CEO of Rakuten, said, “Our investment is part of our broader strategy to become a leading mobile network operator in Japan and a global solution provider to markets around the world. Rakuten’s strategic investment with AST & Science has the potential to support our efforts to connect users across Japan through mobile innovation, expanding national coverage from metropolitan to remote areas and bolstering the network in times of natural disaster.”