Advanced Television

BlueWalker3 aggravates ITU

November 16, 2022

AST Space Mobile – which says it is building “the first and only space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones” – successfully deployed its huge communications array aboard its BlueWalker3 (BW3) satellite on November 14th. But the operator has a problem with the ITU’s regulator.

“The successful unfolding of BlueWalker3 is a major step forward for our patented space-based cellular broadband technology and paves the way for the ongoing production of our BlueBird satellites,” said Abel Avellan, CEO of AST SpaceMobile.

BW3 is the largest-ever commercial communications array deployed in low Earth orbit and is designed to communicate directly with cellular devices via 3GPP standard frequencies at 5G speeds.

AST’s problem is with the ITU; AST had asked the ITU for an extension of 18 months to its official ‘Bringing into Use’ (BIU) obligations. The timetable needed AST to bring BW3 into use by November 22nd. AST will continue to use its transmissions ahead of a further ITU review in March next year.

“Now that it has been unfolded, the satellite spans 693 square feet in size, a design feature critical to support a space-based cellular broadband network. The satellite is expected to have a field of view of over 300,000 square miles on the surface of the Earth,” says AST.

AST, using its official licence issuer (Papua New Guinea), has argued ‘force majeure’ as being the reason for the delay in the manufacturing of its satellite and the delays in launching the craft. But this has not impressed the ITU’s Radio regulations Board. Moreover, while the satellite’s giant antenna has been deployed the craft will take another 18 months or so to reach its orbital destination and operating height of 700 kms.

Initially, AST had planned on launching on a Russian Soyuz rocket, but had to switch to SpaceX because of the Russian problems. AST’s licence to launch on the Russian rocket was suspended by the US Commerce Department.

Nevertheless, AST is currently planning to continue with expanding its fleet with a launch later next year on a SpaceX rocket.

“Every person should have the right to access cellular broadband, regardless of where they live or work. Our goal is to close the connectivity gaps that negatively impact billions of lives around the world,” said Avellan.

AST SpaceMobile says it has agreements and understandings with mobile network operators (MNOs) globally that have over 1.8 billion existing subscribers, including a mutual exclusivity with Vodafone in 24 countries. Interconnecting with AST SpaceMobile’s planned network will allow MNOs, including Vodafone Group, Rakuten Mobile, AT&T, Bell Canada, MTN Group, Orange, Telefonica, Etisalat, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison, Smart Communications, Globe Telecom, Millicom, Smartfren, Telecom Argentina, Telstra, Africell, Liberty Latin America and others, the ability to offer extended cellular broadband coverage to their customers who live, work and travel in areas with poor or non-existent cell coverage, with the goal of eliminating dead zones with cellular broadband from space.

AST’s BlueWalker3 satellite was launched on September 10th. The company plans on launching another 5 BlueWalker satellites over the next year.

Categories: Blogs, Inside Satellite, Policy, Regulation