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Satellite

Lynk and AST SpaceMobile battle for mobile operator customers

Two companies hoping to offer cellular services from satellites are working to nail down early roaming deals with mobile network operators across the globe. And so far they're both racking up wins.

The latest is Lynk, which announced this week its first two mobile network operator customers: Aliv in the Bahamas and Telecel Centrafrique in the Central African Republic.

"As flagship partners, Aliv and Telecel have acquired first-to-market rights to implement Lynk's service in their respective countries," Lynk explained in a release. "Lynk's global commercial service is scheduled to be launched next year, and more agreements are expected in the coming months."

Lynk touted on its website a video from Aliv's CTO Stephen Curran, who explained that the operator plans to use Lynk's space-based services when disasters might knock out the operator's terrestrial network, as well as in the Caribbean Sea where Aliv's terrestrial network cannot reach.

"The great thing about the technology is that it's using the cell phone, which is in everyone's pocket," Curran said.

Both Lynk and AST SpaceMobile promise to connect existing, unmodified cell phones to their-low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites by conducting transmissions in the licensed spectrum bands of their mobile network operator partners. Lynk has promised to launch commercial services by next year, while AST SpaceMobile has promised a 2023 commercial launch.

AST SpaceMobile's progress

While Lynk is now touting its first "commercial agreements," AST SpaceMobile for years has been boasting of the expansive lineup of its own operator partnerships. Specifically, the company recently said it signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Smart Communications, Africell, MUNI, UT Mobile, LIBTELCO "and others." Those agreements build on the deals the company has already signed with massive network operators like Rakuten, AT&T and Vodafone.

Indeed, AST SpaceMobile said it now counts MOUs with operators collectively servicing 1.5 billion subscribers.

AST SpaceMobile, which recently went public via a deal with a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC), disclosed the terms of its agreements with Vodafone and Rakuten in its most recent quarterly filing with the SEC.

"The Vodafone Commercial Agreements are to include mutual exclusivity, conditioned upon Vodafone making the SpaceMobile Service available to all of its customers and certain promotional efforts, within all Vodafone markets for five years commencing on the launch of a commercial service based on Phase 3 of the SpaceMobile Service; preferential commercial terms in Vodafone partner markets; 50/50 revenue share for the SpaceMobile Service in Vodafone exclusivity markets; and the procurement, building and operating of mobile network ground stations at a mutually agreed cost by Vodafone," AST SpaceMobile wrote. Vodafone agreed in 2020 to invest into AST SpaceMobile. "No payments have been made to date between us and Vodafone pursuant to the anticipated Vodafone Commercial Agreements."

And Rakuten, another AST SpaceMobile investor, has payments included in its own agreement with the company. "Upon the launch of such coverage, Rakuten will receive unlimited, exclusive rights and usage capacity in Japan in exchange for a $500,000 annual maintenance fee payable to AST LLC or our successors. Furthermore, AST LLC agreed to make $5 million (or such lesser amount as mutually agreed upon the parties) in capital investments towards the design, construction, acquisition and implementation of ground communication assets," AST SpaceMobile wrote.

AST SpaceMoble, for its part, has promised to launch its new BlueWalker 3 satellite in March 2022. The company said it has received regulatory approval for its services in six countries, and currently counts 261 full-time employees.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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