In a groundbreaking achievement, Vodafone has claimed to have completed the world’s first space-based 5G call using an unmodified smartphone. The successful call was made possible through a test satellite operated by AST SpaceMobile, marking a significant milestone in space-based connectivity.

The use of satellites to deliver services to mobile phones has been gaining traction, especially with features like Apple’s Emergency SOS for iPhones, which enables texting for help even in areas without terrestrial network coverage. However, what sets this achievement apart is the satellite’s ability to provide 4G and 5G connectivity, facilitating data services and internet voice calls.

On September 8, the historic 5G call was placed from Maui, Hawaii, to a Vodafone engineer in Madrid, Spain, using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone and the WhatsApp voice and messaging app.

While some might argue that AST SpaceMobile played a pivotal role in enabling this achievement, as Vodafone is an investor in the company, it didn’t deter Vodafone Group Chief Executive Margherita Della Valle from recognizing the significance of the moment. She emphasized Vodafone’s commitment to bridging the mobile usage gap for millions of people across Europe and Africa, stating that the space-based 5G call marked a crucial step in realizing that ambition.

This achievement follows AST SpaceMobile’s previous milestone of achieving the first two-way voice call directly to everyday unmodified smartphones via the BlueWalker 3 satellite in April. That call connected Midland in Texas to Rakuten in Japan using 4G.

In a separate test, AST SpaceMobile demonstrated impressive performance, achieving a download rate of nearly 14Mbps in a broadband data session using the BlueWalker 3 satellite. This highlights the technology’s potential to provide internet connectivity to remote regions, even with existing mobile phones. It’s worth noting that the BlueWalker 3 satellite is still in its testing phase and paves the way for the launch of five commercial BlueBird satellites in the first quarter of 2024.

Vodafone plans to offer commercial services using AST SpaceMobile satellites in the future, with a focus on delivering broadband connections using standard 5G smartphones. The company holds exclusivity arrangements with AST SpaceMobile for services covering Europe and Africa.

While Vodafone is involved in multiple initiatives in the satellite connectivity space, including collaboration with Amazon’s Project Kuiper, the timing for the availability of commercial services using AST SpaceMobile satellites will depend on the successful deployment of the satellite constellation.

This achievement by Vodafone highlights the potential of space-based 5G connectivity to extend internet access and connectivity to remote and underserved regions, bringing the benefits of advanced telecommunications to a broader audience.

By Impact Lab