Vodafone has announced a new initiative through which it intends, in partnership with AST Spacemobile to bein beaming 4G and 5G internet access directly to mobile phones in Ghana and 48 other equatorial countries from 2023. The new platform, which will employ 20 satellites will effectively turn standard smartphones connected to Vodafone’s network, that are capable of leveraging standard 4G and 5G technology, into satellite phones wherever they are being used from all around Ghana.
The new initiative when it becomes operational would give Vodafone a distinct advantage in its competition with MTN Ghana in particular, for 4G market share. The two networks are the only two of the four GSM networks operational in Ghana that are currently licensed to provide 4G services – the others licensed 4G service providers being indigenously owned dedicated internet service providers led by Surfline.
However Vodafone’s proposed satellite driven 4G services in Ghana would be subject to regulatory approval from the National Communications Authority although it is most likely that the requisite approval would be given within the next couple of years.
Apart from offering Ghana a fast tracked access to 5G services, the proposed platform would be immensely useful to Ghanaian manufacturers, exporters and importers that would be looking to take maximum advantage of commerce opportunities offered by the commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Area. This is because the platform would also cover numerous other major African jurisdictions including Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania., enabling Ghanaian traders, entrepreneurs, investors and corporate executives to communicate seamlessly with counterparts in those countries and to stay in touch with home while on business trips to those countries as well without engaging in international roaming at sometimes inordinate cost.
Also importantly, satellite technology will allow coverage in rural areas not covered by existing mobile networks because of gaps in cell site infrastructure.
Vodafone intends to integrate the technology into the services provided by its Vodafone, Vodacom and Safaricom brands.
AST Mobile stated: “More than five billion mobile subscribers constantly move in and out of wireless coverage, and AST SpaceMobile’s solution will fill these coverage gaps to enable people to stay connected whilst on the move. This is a significant breakthrough in helping to bring affordable mobile connectivity to more than half of the world’s population that do not have internet on their phone.
“Traditional satellite systems require expensive specialised satellite phones or ground antenna systems, which is different to AST SpaceMobile’s patented technology, where all that is needed is the phone in your pocket”.
A Vodafone statement added: “Vodafone wants to ensure that our customers are always connected and everyone benefits from a digital society. This is why we are a lead, strategic partner of AST SpaceMobile, which is uniquely positioned to provide universal mobile coverage to rural areas in Africa, and in the future, Europe, further extending our leading network. The space- based mobile network will also enable us to provide instant communications in the event of a natural or humanitarian disaster”