Advanced Television

ITU filings cause problems for AST SpaceMobile

March 14, 2024

By Chris Forrester

AST SpaceMobile wants to provide the planet’s smartphone owners with satellite-delivered 5G connectivity. The Texas-based company already has a massive prototype satellite in orbit, launched in September 2022, and claims that its technology is the world’s “first and only” global cellular broadband network and with 3,100 patents in place. But it has hit problems with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

On March 12th AST SpaceMobile announced that it had “updated” its constellation’s filings with the ITU and FCC. This was accurate but the impact is considerable, and by all accounts unnecessary had the company submitted its initial applications correctly.

The consequence is that AST has to amend its orbital heights. Five of its next satellites (its Bluebird fleet) will have to operate at much lower orbits (515-525 kms) instead of the planned 730-740 kms.

Moreover, AST will also have to operate at much reduced power levels in order not to interfere with other operators and thus making connectivity more challenging. AST had to alert its shareholders that these amended filings could be represented as “major” in the company’s prospects.

AST is using SpaceX to launch its next five satellites in June.

Comments from watchful observers suggest that AST’s ground coverage will be smaller for each satellite. The new AST filings also now cover two separate elements: one covers its use of ‘V-band’ frequencies and the other covers its LTE User Links.

The considerable risk for AST is that the FCC – in effect – throws AST out of its current V-band processing round. It could be years before the FCC finds new frequencies within the V-band and offers them up for licensing.

AST, recognising these threats, says in its new submission to the FCC: “AST SpaceMobile should retain its place in the 2021 V-band processing round. While Section 25.116(c) of the Commission’s Rules provides that “major” amendments are considered “newly filed application[s]” if filed after a processing round’s cut-off date, as it pertains to AST SpaceMobile’s pending request for V-band authority, the changes in the instant Application are minor. Even if the Commission deems the amendment major, the changes do not create new frequency conflicts and were not foreseeable at the time of AST SpaceMobile’s initial application, placing this filing within an exception to the general rule. To the extent the Commission considers this is a major amendment that does not fall within the exception, AST SpaceMobile respectfully requests waiver of Section 25.116(c) because the amendment does not create increased interference risk as set forth in the accompanying Technical Statement and interference analysis and is consistent with the public interest.”

AST has some powerful friends in AT&T, Google and Vodafone plus other major telcos around the world (Rakuten Mobile, Bell Canada, Orange, Telefonica, TIM, Saudi Telecom Company, MTN, Zain KSA, Etisalat, Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison, Telkomsel, Smart Communications, Globe Telecom, Millicom, Smartfren, Telecom Argentina, Telstra, Africell, Liberty Latin America, and others) which might help sway the FCC into a favourable – and speedy – decision.

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