AT&T to seek permission to lease AST SpaceMobile spectrum
On May 10, AT&T submitted a regulatory request to lease wireless spectrum to AST SpaceMobile for the purpose of connecting smartphones in the United States to AST SpaceMobile’s planned satellite constellation. The agreement between the two companies includes the majority of AT&T’s low-band frequencies, which AST SpaceMobile intends to utilize to enhance AT&T’s coverage nationwide.
To enable wireless transmissions between smartphones and satellites, the companies require approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). AST SpaceMobile’s Chief Strategy Officer, Scott Wisniewski, mentioned that this authorization could be obtained through a permit for their spectrum leasing arrangement. Another possible avenue for approval is a rulemaking process proposed by the FCC called “Supplemental Coverage from Space,” which was put forward on March 17.
Both authorization approaches were discussed in a recent public hearing on this topic, with the FCC expressing encouragement for both methods. Ultimately, FCC approval will be crucial for AT&T and AST SpaceMobile to proceed with their plans to leverage satellite connectivity and address coverage gaps in the United States.
AST SpaceMobile has an additional request pending with the FCC seeking permission to transmit V-band frequencies from its proposed low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to gateways for backhaul purposes. This request is part of AST SpaceMobile’s broader plans to establish a comprehensive satellite communication network.
In collaboration with AT&T and Rakuten, a Japanese telecommunications company, AST SpaceMobile successfully conducted its first voice call on April 20 using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone and its BlueWalker 3 test satellite. The tests with BlueWalker 3 are ongoing, with the objective of demonstrating the satellite’s capability to provide communication services at speeds typically associated with 5G networks.
AST SpaceMobile intends to launch its initial five commercial satellites in the first quarter of 2024 using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. These satellites will be instrumental in the realization of AST SpaceMobile’s vision for a global satellite communication network, facilitating connectivity and communication services across various locations.
AST SpaceMobile’s Block 1 satellites, named after their development phase, are similar in size to the 1,500-kilogram BlueWalker 3 satellite. These Block 1 satellites are expected to be launched first. Following them, AST SpaceMobile plans to launch 20 larger Block 2 satellites later in 2024, which will be approximately 50% larger than those in Block 1.
AT&T has not provided specific details regarding the commercial deployment timeline for its partnership with AST SpaceMobile in the United States. However, AST SpaceMobile has indicated that the Block 2 satellites are necessary to provide coverage to the most commercially viable markets.
Lynk Global, a Virginia-based company that is also seeking authorization to offer direct-to-device commercial services in the US, has not disclosed its spectrum partner yet. SpaceX, on the other hand, announced last year that it would utilize spectrum from T-Mobile to enable direct connectivity between standard smartphones and its upgraded satellites in the low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation.