Rakuten Mobile to launch Japanese satellite-to-mobile service with AST SpaceMobile 


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The companies aim to launch the service commercially in 2026, but note that the specific timing remains “uncertain”  

Japanese mobile network operator Rakuten Mobile has announced that it is planning to launch a satellite-to-mobile service in collaboration with AST SpaceMobile in Japan. 

The companies envisage that the direct-to-mobile satellite services will be used for messaging initially, but ultimately being expanded to internet, voice, and video services using regular smartphones.  

Back in November 2022, Rakuten Mobile received preliminary approval from the Japanese authorities to test the service using AST SpaceMobile’s low Earth orbit (LEO) test satellite BlueWalker 3. 

The announcement notes that there is a growing need for such services in Japan because of the country’s high-risk of natural disasters and many hard-to-connect remote areas. For example, in January this year, the country’s Noto Peninsula earthquake cut off of recovery routes, causing delays to emergency responders that could have been mitigated with satellite connectivity. 

“Remote islands and mountainous regions present unique challenges that require innovative solutions, while the threat of natural disasters, coupled with the effects of climate change, has also heightened public awareness of the importance of mobile connectivity for daily life,” said Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten Group and Chairman of Rakuten Mobile. 

“We are proud to partner with AST SpaceMobile to bring their cutting-edge solutions to Japan by realizing satellite-to-mobile services, ensuring our customers would potentially enjoy mobile connectivity across Japan,” he continued. 

The launch is not the first time the two companies have worked together. After entering into a strategic partnership in March 2020, the two firms collaborated on the world’s first two-way voice call in April 2023 between Texas and Tokyo, using two standard smartphones. 

Direct-to-device satellite connectivity is an area of increasing interest for the global telecoms community, with SpaceX’s Starlink beginning to launch satellites equipped with the new technology at the start of this year.  

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