Nokia inks 5-year deal with AST SpaceMobile

Nokia won a five-year deal with AST SpaceMobile to provide radio technology enabling its direct-to-cell phone connectivity from space. Terms were not disclosed.

AST SpaceMobile is the Midland, Texas-based satellite company that aims to bring cellular connectivity directly to 4G and 5G devices via low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. It’s partnering with mobile network operators like Vodafone, Orange and Rakuten to make it all happen.

The launch of AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 test satellite will kick off global testing with mobile operators on six continents. The BlueWalker 3 launch from Cape Canaveral is expected in early to mid-September.

Part of AST SpaceMobile's mission is bring cellular broadband to approximately half of the world's population who remain unconnected.

Their plan is to offer a service that works with any standard, unmodified, off-the-shelf mobile phone or 2G/3G/4G LTE/5G and IoT-enabled device. The idea is mobile users won’t need to subscribe to SpaceMobile’s service directly but can connect to it via their terrestrial mobile service provider.

Nokia’s role in all of this includes supplying equipment from its AirScale portfolio, including its AirScale base stations powered by the latest generation of ReefShark System-on-Chip (SoC) chipsets. Nokia also will provide its NetAct solution for network management and daily network operations, as well as optimization and technical support services.

According to Nokia President of Mobile Networks Tommi Uitto, the two companies have been working together for a while now.

“Connectivity should be considered an essential service like water, electricity, or gas. Everyone should be able to have access to universal broadband services that will ensure that no one is left behind,” Uitto said via a press release. “Nokia has a long history of delivering connectivity solutions that have had a major and positive impact on society. We have worked closely with AST SpaceMobile on this important initiative for two years which seeks to provide crucial connectivity from space to underserved communities around the world.”

BlueWalker 3 is designed to communicate directly with cellular devices via 3GPP standard frequencies. Ultimately, AST SpaceMobile is aiming to deploy roughly 100 satellites.

“Nokia is supporting us with dozens of engineers and development professionals, including leading architecture research experts at Bell Labs, the world-renowned industrial research arm of Nokia,” said AST SpaceMobile Chief Strategy Officer Scott Wisniewski in a statement. “In the coming months, we are scheduled to launch our BlueWalker 3 test satellite into low Earth orbit, which has a 64-square meter phased array antenna designed for direct-to-cell connectivity. With this satellite, we plan to conduct testing all over the world with leading mobile network operators, leveraging Nokia's technology solutions on the ground.”

AST SpaceMobile isn’t alone in its quest to serve the underserved with a satellite/cell phone combination. Lynk Global aims to offer a commercial satellite-direct-to-phone service later this year. It’s also working with carrier partners and as of April had signed nine contracts with mobile service providers.