AST SpaceMobile completes first space-based voice call using smartphones

AST SpaceMobile announced Tuesday that it made the first-ever space-based voice call to a standard smartphone. 

The two-way voice calls were completed directly to everyday unmodified smartphones using the BlueWalker 3, or BW3, satellite. 

Engineers from Vodafone, Rakuten and AT&T participated in the preparation and testing.

The first call was made from Midland, Texas, to Rakuten in Japan over AT&T spectrum using a Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone.

The company – which is building the first space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones – said this is the first time anyone has ever achieved a direct voice connection from space to an everyday cellular device. The achievement was a significant step forward in its mission to provide connectivity to the nearly 50% of the global population who remain unconnected from cellular broadband.

The calls, the company said, also demonstrated the power of its BW3 satellite, the largest-ever commercial communications array deployed in low-Earth orbit. 

In addition to the test calls, AST SpaceMobile engineers conducted initial compatibility tests on different smartphones and devices

According to the company, the phones successfully exchanged Subscriber Identification Module – also known as SIM – and network information directly to BW3, with additional measurements on the smartphone uplink and downlink signal strength confirming the ability to support cellular broadband speeds and 4G LTE / 5G waveforms.

"Achieving what many once considered impossible, we have reached the most significant milestone to date in our quest to deliver global cellular broadband from space. While we take a moment to celebrate this tremendous accomplishment, we remain focused on the path ahead and pivotal next steps that get us closer to our goal of transforming the way the world connects," AST SpaceMobile CEO Abel Avellan said in a statement. 

AST SpaceMobile has agreements and understandings with international mobile network operators that have approximately 2 billion subscribers and has more than 2,600 patent and patent-pending claims for its tech.

"AT&T’s heritage began with the birth of the telephone 147 years ago and has continued with many other firsts including: trans-continental call, overseas call, call from the moon and partnering to deliver the only network built with and for America’s first responders," Chris Sambar, the head of AT&T Network, said. "We connect people to greater possibility, and this important milestone with AST SpaceMobile is a big step and we can’t wait to see what’s next in our space-based journey."