As incredible as it may seem, millions of people in the world today suffer from coverage problems and live deprived of the benefits of the digital society. Traditional mobile broadband, which needs communication towers, does not reach all regions of the planet, but these gaps may be filled in a couple of years thanks to the solution developed by the technology company AST & Science, who has been working on building the first mobile broadband network to be broadcast directly from space. Whether in the most remote corner, in rural areas or in the middle of a natural disaster, citizens will stay connected without having to invest in specialized and expensive hardware.
At the head of this ambitious project is Abel Avellán, which has a 25-year track record in the space industry and is a co-inventor of 18 patents. From his home in Florida (United States) he explains to this newspaper that the purpose of the company was, from its birth, «democratize access to information and knowledge so that the place of residence or work does not matter in order to have access to the internet.
Currently, to achieve connectivity, special equipment is required, but the AST & Science satellite network will be able to cover every inch of the planet, eliminating that limitation. By not carrying the installation of land infrastructure, the firm’s proposal is profitable in all types of locations, even where population density is low. The recipients of this technology include a wide range of users. “It is the world’s population that already has internet, but wants to make sure that their phone will work without problems regardless of where they are and the 4 billion people who do not have access to broadband,” says Avellán. The company successfully tested its SpaceMobile technology aboard the BlueWalker 1 satellite, launched in April 2019, and has continued the validation process after that initial flight.
Foresee that the first 20 satellites are launched in the second half of 2022 to provide services throughout 2023. The company operates under a wholesale business model, so it works only with operators, some of whom are investors, as is the case with Vodafone. In the next five to seven years, he estimates that it will gain access to about 380 million mobile subscribers.
«We believe that the communication access gap will decrease, mainly for people who are not connected. We will start with the equatorial zones all the way to northern Europe ”, comments the founder of AST & Science, who last December announced his merger with New Providence Acquisition Corp, a publicly traded Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC). After the operation, AST to become a listed company on the US Nasdaq 100 index and will have an estimated value of $ 1.4 billion in shares. “At this point we think that the technology is complete and we are in the manufacturing phase. One of the biggest challenges was the financing of the project and with this transaction we have the first 460 million dollars “, says Avellán.
Impact in Spain
With a staff of 160 employees –some of whom work in Barcelona and Valladolid in the design area–, the company is studying the possibility of manufacture significant parts of satellites in the south of our country. Avellán cannot give more details for now, but leaves a clear message: «We think we are an important employer for Spain. The Spanish engineer is excellent, he is very flexible and Spain is very competitive within Europe. And, in addition, the company has a CEO who speaks Spanish ”, jokes Avellán, an American of Venezuelan origin.