Vodacom to launch satellite-based mobile network in Africa

Vodacom plans to provide mobile connectivity with 4G and 5G speeds through a satellite-based communications service across several African countries in 2023.

The initiative forms part of an agreement between parent company Vodafone Group and AST SpaceMobile, which is building the world’s first global broadband cellular network in space to operate directly with standard, unmodified mobile devices.

The first tranche of AST SpaceMobile’s launch plans will involve the use of 20 satellites to offer low-latency mobile connectivity that can be accessed by approximately 1.6 billion people living in the 49 largest countries of the world’s equatorial regions.

“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,” the company explained.

“Subject to regulatory approval in each market, these will include DRC, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, and Tanzania,” AST SpaceMobile said. It also plans to secure approval in India.

Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub said that providing affordable mobile coverage requires a blend of technologies and infrastructure – including traditional masts and 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,” Joosub said.

“AST SpaceMobile will ensure that remote communities in many sub-Saharan African countries can have access to the latest digital services,” he added.

Works with standard devices

Traditional satellite-based systems require expensive specialised satellite phones or ground antennas to communicate.

AST SpaceMobile said its service will be the first of its kind to connect standard mobile phones at 4G and 5G speeds without this specialised equipment, as it employs AST SpaceMobile’s patented space-based network.

“This is a significant breakthrough in helping to bring affordable mobile connectivity to more than half of the world’s population that do not have Internet on their phone,” the company said.

“Today, more than five billion mobile subscribers constantly move in and out of wireless coverage, and AST SpaceMobile’s solution will fill these coverage gaps to enable people to stay connected whilst on the move,” it added.

Vodafone said that the network will also enable it to provide instant communications in the event of a natural or humanitarian disaster.

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Vodacom to launch satellite-based mobile network in Africa