Telecommunications companies PLDT and Smart will be teaming up with AST SpaceMobile to bring space-based cellular broadband technology to the Philippines.

Internet is fast becoming essential in our day-to-day lives—from browsing social media to catching up on the latest news, shopping online, sending and receiving money, and more. But to sustain the ever-growing need to get all this done, a reliable internet connection is a must.

Thus, telecommunication provider PLDT Inc said on Thursday, May 19, that it will be testing a space-based cellular broadband technology—together with its wireless unit Smart Communications and US-based partner AST SpaceMobile.

According to a statement by PLDT, Smart and AST SpaceMobile presented their plans to conduct tests of AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite during a recent meeting with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Telecommunications Commission.

Likewise, it added that the BlueWalker 3 satellite is designed to communicate directly with unmodified mobile phones from a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite, which is relatively close to the Earth’s surface.

The First in the Philippines

A breakthrough in the tech industry, having internet from a space-based satellite will be able to address the prevalent digital divide—especially in remote and disadvantaged areas. And according to PLDT, Smart will be the first to test this technology in the Philippines.

“Fortunately, newer technologies in satellites are capable of providing much-needed cellular connectivity with more flexibility in their deployment,” says DICT Acting Secretary Emmanuel Rey “Manny” Caintic. “LEO satellites are an excellent addition to our solution set as they offer low latency, high throughput internet to our GIDAs, and AST SpaceMobile’s technology—which is being designed to directly connect to ordinary smartphones—could be a game-changer.”

With President Rodrigo Duterte signing a measure last March that expanded the access of internet service providers to satellite systems, some companies have taken the chance on this endeavor. Last July 2021, Smart signed a memorandum of understanding with AST SpaceMobile to bring this technology to the Philippines. Likewise, PLDT said that it tested on-orbit high-speed broadband connectivity with Telesat of Canada’s Phase 1 LEO satellite earlier.

Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry confirmed that Elon Musk’s SpaceX and its LEO broadband technology—dubbed Starlink—is setting up in the Philippines.

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