TAMPA, Fla. — AT&T requested regulatory permission May 10 to lease AST SpaceMobile the wireless spectrum the venture needs to connect smartphones in the United States to its planned constellation.

Their agreement includes substantially all of AT&T’s low-band frequencies, which satellites AST SpaceMobile plans to start deploying next year would use to close the telco’s coverage gaps across the country.

The companies need Federal Communications Commission approval for wireless transmissions between a phone and a satellite. AST SpaceMobile chief strategy officer Scott Wisniewski said this could come with a permit for their spectrum leasing arrangement.

This approval could also come under a rulemaking process for “Supplemental Coverage from Space” that the FCC proposed March 17.

Both approaches to authorization were encouraged by the FCC in their public hearing on this topic last month, Wisniewski noted.

AST SpaceMobile also has a request pending with the FCC for permission to transmit V-band frequencies from its proposed low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to gateways for backhaul.

In partnership with AT&T and Japanese telco Rakuten, AST SpaceMobile made its first voice call April 20 using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone and its BlueWalker 3 test satellite.

AT&T said in the May 10 FCC regulatory filing that tests with BlueWalker 3 are continuing with an aim to demonstrate the satellite’s ability to deliver communications at “speeds typically used in 5G settings.”

AST SpaceMobile plans to launch its first five commercial satellites in the first quarter of 2024 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. 

Called Block 1, these satellites are roughly the same size as the 1,500-kilogram BlueWalker 3. 

They are due to be followed later in 2024 by 20 Block 2 satellites that would be 50% larger than those in Block 1.

AT&T did not detail when services from its AST SpaceMobile partnership could be commercially deployed across the United States. AST SpaceMobile has said its Block 2 batch is needed to provide coverage to the most commercially attractive markets.

Virginia-based Lynk Global, which is also seeking permission to provide direct-to-device commercial services in the U.S. and has three operational satellites in LEO, has not yet disclosed a spectrum partner in the country.

SpaceX last year said it would use spectrum from T-Mobile to directly connect standard smartphones to upgraded satellites in its Starlink LEO constellation.

Other space companies are pursuing direct-to-device businesses using frequencies already approved for mobile satellite services, such as Globalstar, which started supporting an SOS application for Apple’s latest iPhones last year.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...