Rakuten and Vodafone invest in low earth orbit satellite network
Written by: Charlotte Hathway | Published:
AST & Science headquarters at the Midland International Air and Space Port (Texas)

Rakuten and Vodafone have become the lead investors in a venture to develop a mobile broadband network that will be broadcast from space.

AST & Science has said that its SpaceMobile network will be the first low earth orbit (LEO), low-latency satellite network in the world to connect directly to standard smartphones. The company holds an extensive patent and IP portfolio for its ground and space technologies.

The SpaceMobile network will initially offer 4G services to partner networks globally, with 5G to follow in the future. It will enable seamless roaming to and from terrestrial cellular networks at comparable data rates without any need for specialised satellite hardware.

“SpaceMobile will be particularly transformative to the growing US$1 trillion annual global mobile market because it will eliminate the coverage gaps faced by today’s five billion mobile subscribers moving in and out of connectivity every day. It will also help the world’s most under-served communities to access the latest mobile services much sooner than predicted, helping more people to access the digital economy,” said Abel Avellan, AST & Science chairman and CEO.

Nick Read, CEO, Vodafone Group, added, “At Vodafone we want to ensure everyone benefits from a digital society – that no-one is left behind. We believe SpaceMobile is uniquely placed to provide universal mobile coverage, further enhancing our leading network across Europe and Africa – especially in rural areas and during a natural or humanitarian disaster – for customers on their existing smartphones.”

In addition to its investment in AST & Science, Vodafone has agreed to a strategic partnership and will contribute technical, operational and regulatory expertise in support of the global deployment of SpaceMobile.

AST & Science successfully tested its SpaceMobile technology aboard the BlueWalker 1 satellite, launched in April 2019, and has been further validating the technology following that initial flight.

The new investment brings the total capital raised by AST & Science to US$128 million, including the early investments from Cisneros and founder Abel Avellan.


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