From www.pcmag.com

A rendering of AST SpaceMobile's BlueWalker 3 in orbit over the Earth. A rendering of AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 in orbit over the Earth. (Credit: AST SpaceMobile)

AT&T’s plans to launch satellite-to-phone connectivity via its partner AST SpaceMobile don’t feature the rocket fuel of the Apple or SpaceX hype machine, but they do include something absent from the Emergency SOS feature on newer iPhones and early versions of T-Mobile’s planned Starlink service: usable broadband.

AT&T and AST executives made that pitch in a panel Wednesday afternoon at the Satellite 2024 trade show in Washington.

“We solve a real problem,” said Abel Avellan, AST chairman, founder, and CEO.

“This is not just going to be texting, it’s not just going to be voice, it’s going to be true broadband,” added Chris Sambar, AT&T network head. 

AST demonstrated that with a September test of its prototype BlueWalker 3 satellite that delivered 5G data, with download speeds clocked at 14Mbps, to an unmodified smartphone in a remote part of Maui. In April, BlueWalker 3 routed a voice call that AST touted as the first smartphone-to-satellite call.

AST next plans to launch production Bluebird satellites, with the first five booked on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the second quarter. Avellan said AST will “ramp up” to launching 75 a year by 2025, with 45 to 60 supporting US coverage (the company has said before that 90 satellites would allow global service), but neither he nor Sambar said when commercial AT&T service could start.

SpaceX, meanwhile, already has 5,000-plus Starlinks in orbit but only began launching direct-to-cell versions capable of T-Mobile service in January. In November, it told the FCC that it plans to have about 840 such satellites operational by May. 

AST can operate with so many fewer satellites because of a powerful antenna design that Avellan described as “the largest phased-array ever launched into space.” That uses leased low-band AT&T spectrum that reaches existing phones—a huge contrast with Apple’s messaging via the satellite firm Globalstar and the proprietary approach that Qualcomm announced last January with Iridium and then scrapped in November.

Said Avellan: “The first thing that AT&T told us was, it has to work on every phone.” 

Sambar noted how long ago this collaboration began, saying “It’s been almost six years that we’ve been working together.”

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In January, AT&T put money behind that partnership, participating in a $110 million funding round for AST alongside Google and Vodafone. That month, AST also announced that an unspecified part of the US government would purchase service.

Sambar wouldn’t say how AT&T would price AST roaming: “We really just started that work in earnest with our product teams.”

But he suggested it might occupy a spot in the table breaking down which features come with which of AT&T’s multiple unlimited-data plans.

“I think there’s different ways we can monetize it,” he said. “Maybe it becomes an additional service that’s added onto a premium service at no charge”—with customers on cheaper plans able to add it for “a small upcharge.”

Fully Mobilized newsletter to get our top mobile tech stories delivered right to your inbox.”,”first_published_at”:”2021-09-30T21:18:21.000000Z”,”published_at”:”2022-09-27T15:45:43.000000Z”,”last_published_at”:”2022-09-27T15:45:27.000000Z”,”created_at”:null,”updated_at”:”2022-09-27T15:45:43.000000Z”})”>

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The post AT&T, AST SpaceMobile Promise ‘True Broadband’ From Satellite Phone Service first appeared on www.pcmag.com

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