AST SpaceMobile added Orange to its operator roster to explore a satellite-based mobile broadband trial in an unnamed country in Africa.

The two companies signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) that included using AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 test satellite to provide service to mobile phones in Africa using 3GPP standard frequencies.

The MOU could also pave the way for the two companies to forge a bigger agreement to serve Orange subscribers through AST SpaceMobile’s planned network of BlueBird satellites.

Orange has African network operations in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mayotte, Morocco, Reunion Island, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Tunisia.

The BlueWalker 3 test satellite, which AST SpaceMobile expects to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later this year, has an aperture of 693 square feet that was designed to communicate directly with mobile phones.

AST SpaceMobile announced an agreement with SpaceX earlier this for the first BlueWalker 3 orbit, which the two companies stated could also lead to a framework for future launches.

AST SpaceMobile plans to launch an array of satellites that it will use to fill in connectivity gaps for mobile subscribers via standard phones. In addition to Orange, AST SpaceMobile is also collaborating with Rakuten Mobile, Vodafone and American Tower to address Internet connectivity gaps.

In September 2021, AST SpaceMobile competitor Lynk Global announced it had signed several commercial operator agreements to serve customers in the Bahamas and Central Africa via its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. It followed this up with deals in Mongolia as well as several Pacific and Caribbean nations. Launch is expected this year.