Philippines-based Smart Communications forged a deal with AST SpaceMobile to extend mobile broadband coverage to rural areas using the US company’s latest satellite communications technology.

In a joint statement, AST SpaceMobile detailed construction of a satellite broadband network capable of being accessed from standard mobile devices with the aim of delivering nationwide coverage.

Chairman and CEO Abel Avellan explained the focus on rural connectivity would enable Smart Communications to offer “affordable broadband” services to the “unconnected for the first time ever”.

Smart Communications president and CEO Alfredo Panlilio said the satellite technology will help the operator “accomplish our mission of connecting the entire nation”.

Panlilio added the deal “strongly supports this vision, as we continue to invest in networks and explore the most relevant innovations that will enable us to continue expanding the reach of our services”.

The operator had 71.8 million mobile subscribers at end-March and has earmarked at least PHP88 billion ($1.8 billion) in capex for 2021, compared with PHP71.9 billion in 2020.