Vodafone and AST set for space network launch in 2023

08 March 2021

Vodafone Group-backed AST SpaceMobile set a date of 2023 for the launch of what it said is the first space-based mobile network delivering high-speed connectivity without the need for specialist consumer hardware.

The AST SpaceMobile project, backed by Vodafone and Japanese electronic commerce and online retailing company Rakuten, is designed to provide coverage to the 49 largest countries around the equator, including several key markets served by Vodafone Group affiliates, such as Safaricom and Vodacom in Africa.

US-based AST SpaceMobile has a fleet of satellites designed to provide data speeds commonly associated with 4G or 5G to general, commercially available handsets. In the first phase it expects to cover an area inhabited by 1.6 billion people with 20 birds.

The first markets, subject to regulatory approval, will include Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania, where Vodafone affiliates plan to incorporate the service into their offering for remote communities.

AST SpaceMobile added it also plans to apply for regulatory approval to deliver the service in India as part of this first phase. 

In a statement, Vodafone backed the project to boost connectivity in its markets, adding the service was “uniquely positioned to provide universal mobile coverage to rural areas in Africa, and in the future, Europe, further extending our leading network”.

“The space-based mobile network will also enable us to provide instant communications in the event of a natural or humanitarian disaster,” it added. Service in first batch of countries is expected in 2023.