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Google partners with Starlink rival on smartphone internet

Google is set to collaborate with Starlink rival AST SpaceMobile to develop technology that will allow consumers to access the internet on their mobiles from remote locations.

The tech giant, which is behind the Android operating system, has also joined AT&T and Vodafone in investing US$110 million to help fund a direct-to-smartphone constellation.

Last year, Texas-based AST SpaceMobile demonstrated that its satellite BlueWalker 3 can power video calls.

The 1,500-kilogram prototype achieved a download rate of 14 megabits per second and relayed a brief 5G voice call to a mobile that hadn’t been adapted.


It now plans to use the extra funding – which will also include drawing down US$50 million from an existing debt facility and raising US$100 million in selling shares – to launch five finalised direct-to-mobile satellites this quarter.

AST SpaceMobile said its vision has always been to collaborate with the world’s leading telcos.

“With this strategic investment, we are gaining capital, invaluable expertise, and strategic partnership,” it said.

“This investment comes alongside prior investments by other leaders in the wireless ecosystem, including Rakuten, American Tower, and Bell Canada, all of whom are not only part owners of AST SpaceMobile but also serve as our technology partners and customers.”


It significantly comes weeks after rival SpaceX launched a new generation of satellites planning to carry out similar connectivity, following its landmark deal with Optus in Australia.

SpaceX already has agreements with a host of other international telcos from countries such as Canada, Japan, and Switzerland, but the service will still require regulatory approval before it can go live.

The move has the potential to be revolutionary for Australians living in remote and regional locations who often struggle to access the internet on their devices.

Currently, Optus’ traditional service is unavailable across 60 per cent of Australia’s landmass, but the new tie-up will boost connectivity to almost 100 per cent.

Matt Williams, the business’ current head of customer solutions, said earlier this year that the agreement would provide mobile coverage to 98.5 per cent of Australia’s population through its existing network.

“Australia’s vastness and terrain can make it difficult for any operator to provide mobile coverage everywhere it is needed – especially in remote or hard-to-reach locations,” he said.

“Our work with SpaceX aims to bring the coverage capabilities of satellites direct to compatible mobile handsets without the need for customers to buy additional equipment. This partnership builds on our proud history of satellite innovation in Australia.

“This is a truly innovative model for Australia – connecting satellites to standard mobile phones – and a significant evolution beyond the services SpaceX has provided in Australia to date. It will create a unique experience for Optus customers.”

Alongside investing in AST SpaceMobile, Google also invested $1 billion in SpaceX back in 2015 and agreed a separate deal to work with the Elon Musk-helmed company in 2021 on its ground infrastructure.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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