AT&T, Google part of $155M investment in AST SpaceMobile

Who says the satellite direct-to-device (D2D) is an overcrowded market? Probably more than a few folks, but that’s not stopping AT&T and Google from investing in AST SpaceMobile.

The Midland, Texas-based satellite company on Thursday announced financing of $155 million from new investors AT&T and Google, with Vodafone renewing is commitment as an existing investor. The company also said it plans to draw up to $51.5 million in loans, for a total of $206.5 million in new financing.

AST SpaceMobile claims it invented the space-based direct-to-device market, with a patented design facilitating broadband connectivity directly to standard, unmodified cellular devices.

Investment + purchase orders

In a press release, AST SpaceMobile said the investment from the likes of AT&T, Google and Vodafone underscores confidence in the company’s technology and leadership position in the emerging space-based cellular D2D market. There’s the potential to offer connectivity to 5.5 billion cellular devices when they’re out of coverage.

Bolstering the case for AST SpaceMobile, Vodafone and AT&T placed purchase orders – for an undisclosed amount – for network equipment to support their planned commercial services. In addition, Google and AST SpaceMobile agreed to collaborate on product development, testing and implementation plans for SpaceMobile network connectivity on Android and related devices.

AST SpaceMobile boasts agreements and understandings with more than 40 mobile network operators globally. However, it’s far from alone in the D2D space. Apple/Globalstar, T-Mobile/SpaceX, Bullitt and Lynk Global are among the others.

Iridium, for example, prides itself in already having a low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation in the sky, and it recently announced a shift in strategy to use 3GPP standards via its Project Stardust endeavor.

Iridium was one of the original satellite companies that went through commercial failure in the late 1990s before emerging from bankruptcy to essentially start over with its constellation of 66 satellites.

Remote messaging

In the latest round of satellite ventures, the basic premise is to offer messaging for consumers when they’re hiking or doing other activities in remote areas where the handset has a line of site to a satellite, as opposed to in-building coverage where the phone uses terrestrial coverage.  

Last year, AST SpaceMobile made headlines for completing a direct voice connection from space to an unmodified smartphone, marking a major milestone in its mission to provide connectivity to people who aren’t covered by terrestrial cellular networks.

Engineers from Vodafone, Rakuten and AT&T participated in the call, which used a Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone. Space-based connectivity was provided through AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 (BW3) satellite.