Rakuten, the Japanese smartphone manufacturer has announced its plans to offer satellite broadband services along with AST SpaceMobiles directly to its smartphones from 2026. While there is uncertainty about the exact date when the services will be launched, people in the know of the matter expect things to start rolling in from the first quarter of 2026.

Mickey Mikitani, the director and chairman of Rakuten Mobile, Inc. spoke at the event that the strategic partnership will provide 100% geographical coverage in Japan. The collaboration aims to cover the entire world with its cellular space broadband services later on. The technology is quite similar to the Open Ran Access Network. The smartphones will require no modification from the user end. The service if comes to reality, will be equivalent to that of Starlink, which also has announced to announce direct broadband connectivity to smartphone devices from its constellation.

During the event, AST Space Mobile stated that the company aims to launch 5 operational satellites in 2023.

Both companies started their collaboration in 2020 to provide mobile connectivity from space. It has also to be noted that Rakuten is the founding investor of AST Space Mobiles, a U.S.-based company. The duo demonstrated successful call connectivity on January 15 2024 from Hawaii to Tokyo through their space satellites BlueWalker 3 series.

The move from Rakuten will provide stiff competition to the existing 4G carriers in the country like NTT Docomo. A country prone to natural disasters like Japan will benefit immensely from direct to smartphone connectivity.