Rakuten Mobile is continuing to chart a course toward 100% area coverage for users in Japan. On November 10, 2022, the trailblazing operator obtained preliminary experimental test station licenses to conduct mobile communication tests and preliminary verification in Japan using BlueWalker 3, AST SpaceMobile’s low earth orbit test satellite.
Rakuten’s partner since 2020, AST SpaceMobile is currently building the world’s first and only space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by unmodified mobile phones. Rakuten Mobile aims to offer mobile communication services using this network to connect to smartphones in mountainous areas and remote islands that are often out of range of reliable mobile service, as well as boost communications network resilience during disasters.
AST SpaceMobile successfully launched BlueWalker3 into orbit from the U.S. on September 10, 2022. Two months later, on November 14, the company announced the successful deployment of the communications array for BlueWalker 3 in orbit, making history as the largest-ever commercial communications array in low Earth orbit at 693-square-feet.*1
Commenting on this achievement, Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony and AST SpaceMobile director, said, “Our mission is to democratize access to mobile connectivity: That is why we are so excited about the potential of AST SpaceMobile to support disaster-readiness and meet our goal of 100% geographical coverage to our customers in Japan. I look forward not only to testing BW3 on our world-leading cloud-native network in Japan, but also working with AST SpaceMobile on integrating our virtualized radio network technology to help bring connectivity to the world.”
Now that Rakuten Mobile has received preliminary licenses to conduct communication tests between AST SpaceMobile’s test satellite and a gateway earth station in Japan, work will begin to test and verify direct communication between BlueWalker3 and mobile devices. In the next several months, Rakuten Mobile will prepare a gateway earth station in Fukushima Prefecture and check signal strength in Hokkaido’s mountainous regions.
A variety of Rakuten Symphony Symworld™ software will be integrated into the space-based cellular network to enable testing with Rakuten Mobile and other carriers, including Rakuten Symphony vRAN (virtualized Radio Access Network) software, OSS (Operations Support Systems) and BSS (Business Support Systems) software.
The investment in AST SpaceMobile is a testament to continued efforts to expand Rakuten Mobile’s coverage area (now covering more than 98% of Japan’s population) while simultaneously improving quality of service in order to provide its customers with convenient and comfortable communication services anywhere.
To learn more, read the full press release here.