AT&T deal to bring satellite connectivity to smartphones

17 May 2024
AST SpaceMobile plans to launch five commercial satellites into low Earth orbit later this year aimed at giving cellular phones global connectivity through AT&T’s networks. Source: AST SpaceMobile

Looking to keep pace with developments from SpaceX’s Starlink and T-Mobile, AT&T has formed an agreement with AST SpaceMobile that will bring space-based broadband networks directly to everyday smartphones.

The agreement, which runs through 2030, extends a previous memorandum of understanding between the companies that will allow for enhanced connectivity for both consumers and businesses in the U.S.

Later this year, AST SpaceMobile said it will deploy its first commercial satellites to Cape Canaversal for launch into low Earth orbit. These first five satellites will allow commercial service for voice calling, text and video call via space between everyday cellular devices.

AT&T will work directly with AST SpaceMobile on developing, testing and troubleshooting the technology to enable U.S. satellite coverage possible.

Why it matters

Satellite cellular communication is important due to dead zones where traditional network coverage does not reach either due to a lack of cell towers or repeaters or, in the case of 5G, an area where coverage does not flow through because of a wall, building or tree.

Satellite cellular networks provide coverage in these areas as well as rural and mountainous regions where cell towers are limited or not allowed, specifically:

  • National Park land
  • Rural highways
  • Wilderness areas
  • Hard-to-reach locations

“Space-based direct-to-mobile technology is designed to provide customers connectivity by complementing and integrating with our existing mobile network,” said Jeff McElfresh, COO at AT&T. “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.”

The move also helps AT&T keep pace with other telecoms that are developing similar technology like T-Mobile working with Starlink to enable satellite connectivity in smartphones. Earlier this year, both companies announced the first Starlink satellites with direct to cell capabilities were launched into low Earth orbit. The companies will begin field testing on the new service that will leverage the satellites as well as T-Mobile’s wireless network.

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