The Economist March 7th, 2020 pp73 Satellite communications. “A call from the heavens”. “A new firm say it has found a way to link satellites to ordinary smartphones”.
Currently, cell phone reception is limited to areas getting satellite coverage and having cell phone towers, or antennas, nearby. Newer systems by SpaceX and others will expand global coverage but will still require ground-based receiving stations.
A new company, AST & Science, has applied for 30 patents covering “Space Mobile” technology that will allow satellites to link directly to your cell phone anywhere-on the ground, on ships at sea and planes in the air. Space Mobile satellites will work by acting as a relay between your phone and “existing antennas on the ground that are connected to cellular networks”.
Abel Avellan, founder of AST & Science and industry veteran, notes that only hundreds of satellites rather than thousands required by SpaceX et al. will be needed making Space Mobile less expensive.
Initial testing has been successful. Vodafone just joined others such as Rakuten (Japan), Samsung and American Tower as early investors in AST & Science. Others are skeptical due to well-known hurdles required accomplish Space Mobile. These challenges include cell phone power requirements, “propagation delay, allocation of frequency bands, interference and cross-border regulation”. Avellan “says he has solved all these problems”.