Direct-to-cell technology has taken another step forward. AST SpaceMobile ($ASTS) announced yesterday that it successfully demonstrated 5G connectivity with an unmodified smartphone from space for the first time.
Direct-to-cell capabilities have gained traction in recent years, with several companies—including ASTS, Lynk Global, and SpaceX—working on incorporating the technology into their constellations.
- Essentially, capable satellites mimic cell towers, enabling cell service across the globe, including in dead zones where terrestrial towers don’t reach.
- It’s also useful as an emergency backup when disaster strikes. Iridium, for example, has partnered with Qualcomm to develop compatible smartphones to tap into satellite networks specifically in case of an emergency.
The technology is new, but these providers are betting on rapid customer adoption and growth. On a panel at World Satellite Business Week, Lynk CEO Charles Miller estimated that the market will reach $1B within the next five years. (Lynk demonstrated direct-to-cell capabilities with unmodified smartphones up to 4G in Feb. 2022.)
ASTS reported that it used its BlueWalker 3 LEO test satellite and AT&T’s spectrum to connect with an unmodified smartphone in Hawaii on Sept. 8 and facilitate a call with a Vodafone engineer in Madrid.
5G connectivity between unmodified smartphones has never before been demonstrated from space, the company said.
Market check: $ASTS stock was up 8.66% at EOD Tuesday.