Vodacom’s parent company Vodafone has unveiled plans to launch the first-ever space-based mobile network in 2023. Picture: IANS
Vodacom’s parent company Vodafone has unveiled plans to launch the first-ever space-based mobile network in 2023. Picture: IANS

Vodafone reveals plans to launch first-ever space-based network

By Dineo Faku Time of article published Dec 18, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - VODACOM’S parent company Vodafone has unveiled plans to launch the first-ever space-based mobile network in 2023 in partnership with AST & Science LLC (AST SpaceMobile) to close the digital divide and make mobile connectivity cheaper.

The group said that the network, which would reach 1.6 billion users initially, was expected to enable customers to connect directly to 4G and 5G smartphones without any need for specialised hardware.

Vodacom chief executive Shameel Joosub said that providing affordable mobile coverage for everyone required a blend of technologies and infrastructure, from traditional masts to small cells, balloons and satellites at the edge of space.

“While we have been adding deep rural network sites to connect remote communities without any coverage, the lack of power in some areas creates insurmountable obstacles. AST SpaceMobile will ensure that remote communities in many sub-Saharan African countries can have access to the latest digital services,” Joosub said.

Vodacom has 116 million customers across its footprint, including South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

AST SpaceMobile said it had secured the necessary funding to take the venture to this next stage, which would cover the 49 largest countries in the equatorial regions.

The group said the first tranche would involve the use of 20 satellites to offer seamless, low-latency mobile connectivity that can be accessed by around 1.6 billion people across a vast geographical region.

The initial service will target an area north and south of the equator, including rural and remote areas of a number of markets where Vodafone will integrate the technology into the services provided by its Vodacom, Safaricom and Vodafone brands.

Subject to regulatory approval in each market, these would include the DRC; Ghana; Mozambique; Kenya; and Tanzania. AST SpaceMobile will also apply for regulatory approval to launch the service in India.

AST SpaceMobile chairperson and chief executive Abel Avellan said the group’s high-speed, low latency platform represented the world’s first venture aimed at massively closing the digital divide by bringing affordable and accessible connectivity to the regions that need it most.

“We believe our game-changing solution will serve to drive universal and global connectivity, allowing societies to utilise digital technology to gain greater access to knowledge and information,” Avellan said.

Africa Analysis head of pricing Ofentse Dazela said the AST SpaceMobile and Vodafone partnership aimed to bring the most vulnerable communities that remained unconnected in remote rural areas online, allowing them to participate in the digital economy.

Dazela said it was unlikely that this emerging technology would fundamentally disrupt the current landbased tower business model in a big way, considering 3G and 4G population coverage was well over 95 percent in urbanised areas, with the rollout of 5G also gaining traction in these areas.

BUSINESS REPORT

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