Finnish kit vendor Nokia has signed a five-year deal with AST SpaceMobile as it looks to provide 4G and 5G via LEO satellites to connect ‘under-served communities around the world.’
AST SpaceMobile says it is building a ‘space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard 4G or 5G mobile devices’, and Nokia has been drafted in to provide the RAN hardware. The BlueWalker 3 test satellite will launch later this year, which will kick off global testing with various mobile network operators across the world.
AST SpaceMobile says it has a ‘mission is to eliminate the connectivity gaps faced by over five billion mobile subscribers worldwide and to bring cellular broadband to approximately half of the world’s population who remain unconnected.’ The idea is that subscribers in some location remote enough that it is outside the reach of cellular coverage can roam from land networks to space networks. It currently has agreements with a roster of unnamed operators which apparently collectively service over 1.8 billion customers.
Nokia is bringing some AirScale Single RAN equipment to the table, including base stations powered by ReefShark System-on-Chip chipsets, modular baseband plug-in cards, and its NetAct solution for network management, optimization and technical support services. The BlueWalker 3 LEO test satellite will apparently be launched in early to mid-September from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and AST SpaceMobile is aiming to deploy around 100 satellites all in all.
“Connectivity should be considered an essential service like water, electricity, or gas,” said Tommi Uitto, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “Everyone should be able to have access to universal broadband services that will ensure that no one is left behind,” said Tommi Uitto, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “Nokia has a long history of delivering connectivity solutions that have had a major and positive impact on society. We have worked closely with AST SpaceMobile on this important initiative for two years which seeks to provide crucial connectivity from space to underserved communities around the world. We are of course proud our technology is playing an important role in underpinning the networks.”
Scott Wisniewski, Chief Strategy Officer at AST SpaceMobile added: “With the integration of Nokia’s AirScale system, AST SpaceMobile and Nokia are taking an important step toward closing connectivity gaps all over the world. Nokia is supporting us with dozens of engineers and development professionals, including leading architecture research experts at Bell Labs, the world-renowned industrial research arm of Nokia. In the coming months, we are scheduled to launch our BlueWalker 3 test satellite into low Earth orbit, which has a 64-square meter phased array antenna designed for direct-to-cell connectivity. With this satellite, we plan to conduct testing all over the world with leading mobile network operators, leveraging Nokia’s technology solutions on the ground.”
The quotes above pitch the whole thing almost as a philanthropic initiative, as firms often do when they feel enabled to. But of course there’s also presumably a lot of money to be made from providing the sort of space based connectivity to remote areas as the firms describe, as others players in the market such as OneWeb and Telefónica have clearly concluded.