Vodacom Group parent, the UK-headquartered Vodafone Group, has reached an agreement with AST SpaceMobile to launch the first phase of a space-based commercial mobile communications service in 2023.
The project’s goal is to “transform mobile network coverage” for the 49 largest countries in the equatorial regions of Earth, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania in Africa — all markets in which Vodacom operates.
The development comes after SpaceMobile secured the necessary funding for the first phase of the project.AST SpaceMobile is uniquely positioned to provide universal mobile coverage to rural areas in Africa and, in the future, Europe
Vodafone, which is a “lead, strategic partner” of SpaceMobile’s, said the offering will be the first space-based mobile network to connect directly to 4G and 5G smartphones without the need for specialised hardware.
SpaceMobile has secured “up to” US$462-million (R6.8-billion) in in additional financing (gross proceeds) from existing investors in the company, including Vodafone, Rakuten and American Tower, as well as new financial investors including UBS O’Connor and various financial institutions. The business now plans to list on the Nasdaq through a special purpose acquisition vehicle.
No special equipment
“AST SpaceMobile is uniquely positioned to provide universal mobile coverage to rural areas in Africa and, in the future, Europe,” Vodafone said in a statement. “AST SpaceMobile will be the first service of its kind to connect standard mobile phones at 4G and 5G speeds using AST SpaceMobile’s patented space-based network.”
According to Vodafone, more than five billion mobile subscribers move in and out of wireless coverage on a regular basis. The SpaceMobile solution will fill these coverage gaps, it said.
“This is a significant breakthrough in helping to bring affordable mobile connectivity to more than half of the world’s population that do not have Internet on their phone. Traditional satellite systems require expensive, specialised satellite phones or ground antenna systems, which is different to AST SpaceMobile’s patented technology, where all that is needed is the phone in your pocket,” Vodafone said. SpaceMobile’s initial network will cover 1.6 billion people and will use 20 satellites to offer “seamless, low-latency mobile connectivity”.
“The initial service will target an area north and south of the equator, including rural and remote areas of a number of markets where Vodafone will integrate the technology into the services provided by its Vodacom, Safaricom and Vodafone brands.”
The launch of the service is dependent on securing the necessary regulatory approvals in each market where Vodacom and Vodafone plan to offer it.
“While we have been adding deep rural network sites to connect remote communities without any coverage, the lack of power in some areas creates insurmountable obstacles,” said Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub in the Vodafone statement. “AST SpaceMobile will ensure that remote communities in many sub-Saharan African countries can have access to the latest digital services.”