Smart Communications, Inc. will be the first in the Philippines to test AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite to connect directly to ordinary, unmodified mobile phones for better coverage in remote areas, the telco announced Thursday, May 19.
PLDT and Smart, together with their technology collaborator, AST SpaceMobile, have presented their plans to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in a recent meeting.
Texas-based startup AST SpaceMobile provides satellite service directly to cell phones and its technology could be a “game-changer”, DICT Acting Secretary Emmanuel Rey “Manny” Caintic acknowledged.
“Given our country’s archipelagic nature, deploying typical terrestrial broadband infrastructure across the Philippines has been a challenge, especially in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs),” he pointed out.
“Fortunately, newer technologies in satellites are capable of providing cellular connectivity with more flexibility in their deployment,” according to Caintic.
Smart signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with AST SpaceMobile in July 2021. Last month, the satellite provider also clinched a deal with Smart competitor Globe Telecom Inc.
AST SpaceMobile’s market access licenses cover Nigeria and five other countries in Africa and Asia and it is also working in the U.S. and other jurisdictions to secure regulatory approval.
The company originally targeted to provide commercial service by 2023, but reportedly deferred it to 2024 following satellite manufacturing and launch delays.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, Smart’s parent company PLDT and global satellite operator Telesat of Canada also successfully conducted the Philippines’ first on-orbit testing of high-speed broadband connectivity with Telesat’s Phase 1 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite.
This marked another milestone for PLDT as the country’s first local service provider to conduct live in-orbit test over LEO satellite using an end-user terminal installed at the PLDT facility in Greenhills.
PLDT and Smart’s pioneering foray into satellite-powered communication is part of its initiative to expand mobile and Internet services to more hard-to-reach communities across the archipelago.
It also complements the telcos’ nationwide rollout of their fiber optics, and wireless networks based on 4G and 5G technologies.