Satellite player AST SpaceMobile teamed with AT&T, Vodafone Group and Nokia to make what it claimed is the first space-based 5G call using off-the-shelf smartphones, as it continues towards launch of its first commercial birds in Q1 2024.

The call was made from Hawaii, USA, to a Vodafone employee in Madrid, Spain, using unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 handsets, AT&T spectrum and an AST SpaceMobile test satellite.

In a separate test the satellite player noted it had achieved an increased download data rate compared to previous trials with around 14Mb/s being clocked.

AST SpaceMobile’s world first claim is the company’s latest bid to position itself at the forefront of the direct satellite-to-mobile segment, with previous (non-5G) assertions made in April subsequently being contested by rival Lynk Global.

In its statement on the 5G call, Vodafone Group CEO Margherita Della Valle said the milestone was an important step towards realising its ambition of closing “the mobile usage gap for millions of people across Europe and Africa.”

The operator group is an investor in AST SpaceMobile and anticipates using its infrastructure as part of a wider plan to use satellite technology to fill coverage gaps.

Head of AT&T Network Chris Sambar added: “These first-of-a-kind innovations would not be possible without ecosystem-wide collaboration. We’re all working together to achieve the shared vision of space-based connectivity for consumers, businesses and first responders all around the globe.”