AST SpaceMobile — a cellular satellite company backed by AT&T — has placed a satellite call over 5G, marking the “first ever” 5G connection between an unmodified smartphone and a satellite in space.
To conduct the test, AST SpaceMobile used a Galaxy S22. It made the call on September 8th, 2023, from a wireless dead zone in Maui, Hawaii, with its recipient located in Madrid, Spain. AST SpaceMobile got the cell signal to its destination by leveraging its low Earth orbit test satellite, called BlueWalker 3 (BW3), and AT&T’s 5G spectrum. Vodafone, Nokia, and AT&T all validated the call.
There have been a few tests leading up to this latest milestone. In April, SpaceMobile routed its first space-based phone call on AT&T’s 2G network. It later sent a 4G LTE signal from space that an ordinary phone managed to pick up, while also touting 10Mbps download speeds. However, AST SpaceMobile says it has since broken that download speed record by achieving a rate of around 14Mbps in a separate test.
“Once again, we have achieved a significant technological advancement that represents a paradigm shift in access to information,” Abel Avellan, the CEO of AST SpaceMobile, says in a statement. “Since the launch of BW3, we have achieved full compatibility with phones made by all major manufacturers and support for 2G, 4G LTE, and now 5G.”
While Apple rolled out emergency texting via satellite with the iPhone 14 and T-Mobile is working on satellite connectivity with SpaceX’s Starlink, AST SpaceMobile is trying to push the boundaries of space-based phone calls by leveraging 5G speeds. The company plans on launching five commercial BlueBird satellites in the first quarter of next year.
Correction September 19th, 9:11AM: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated the iPhone 14 is capable of satellite calls, when it can only make texts via satellite. We regret the error.