Rakuten Mobile unveiled plans to launch satellite-to-mobile service in Japan in 2026 using AST SpaceMobile’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, advancing the operator’s plans to deliver mobile connectivity across all of Japan.

Mickey Mikitani, Rakuten Mobile chair, stated it is committed to expanding mobile connectivity across Japan, where remote islands and mountainous regions present one-off challenges.

He said such hurdles “require innovative solutions”, adding the threat of natural disasters and effects of climate change had heightened public awareness of the importance of mobile connectivity for daily life.

The operator said the actual timing and scope of the launch “is uncertain and is subject to a number of factors, including those that are outside of the control of Rakuten and AST SpaceMobile”.

Rakuten Mobile secured preliminary experimental test station licences from Japanese authorities to trial the service with AST SpaceMobile in 2022, and completed two-way voice calls between Japan and the US using standard smartphones in 2023.

Its rivals have all worked out satellite broadband service deals with various providers.

NTT Docomo and its parent signed a deal with Project Kuiper in 2023 for the provision of broadband services.

KDDI has an agreement with SpaceX’s Starlink and SoftBank Corp reached a deal to use Eutelsat OneWeb’s LEO satellites to deliver space-based communications.