TECH TALK | Out of this world mobile phone coverage planned for the moon

 SERVICE PLEASE: NASA contracts Nokia to build a 4G mobile network on the moon.
SERVICE PLEASE: NASA contracts Nokia to build a 4G mobile network on the moon.

The main driver for deciding where to live is that all-encompassing term 'amenity', which can really mean what you want it to mean.

I looked at a population heat map in Australia from the turn of last century and the country was smattered with many small dots as people lived where they worked.

Then two major disruptions occurred.

Firstly, in 1908, Henry Ford had the first of 15 million Model T Fords roll off the production line.

Colonel Harley Tarrant assumed the responsibility for distribution of Ford automobiles in Australia in the same year.

Fast forward 14 years. Alexander Kennedy became the first Qantas passenger on a scheduled flight.

As efficient means of transport were developed, people could live further away from where they worked and that esoteric quality of amenity started to become more prevalent in the decision-making process.

A current population heat map of Australia shows fewer population centres with larger populations.

Within amenity, there are many factors to consider. Road access; electricity; water; sewerage access and more.

Many people would consider electricity essential and I would say that an increasing majority would consider the NBN in that same category.

What about mobile phone coverage? Personally, I would say yes.

Well it is so strong in the amenity factor that NASA has just contracted Nokia to build a 4G mobile network ... on the moon! It's scheduled to be up and running by the end of 2022.

It's one small step for phones, but one giant leap for phonekind.

It does sound crazy to have reception on the moon when calls still drop out as you walk into some buildings here on earth.

But the 4G network won't just be used for an astronaut to call home and read a bedtime story to their child - although that might be interesting with the 384,402km distance to the moon creating some stilted conversations with the 1.28 seconds of latency.

In addition to voice and data, the mobile network will also be used for navigation; streaming biometric data back to earth; remote controlling robots and checking sensors.

The 4G network on earth is supported by large cell towers with reliable power or generators.

One advantage on the moon is the lack of trees and buildings to interfere with the signal. The disadvantage is that you have to transport the equipment to the moon.

Nokia will be using small cell technology that uses less power than traditional cell towers and is easier to fit in to a rocket.

This is all part of the NASA Artemis program. After the mobile network is operational in 2022, the first woman and the next man to walk on the moon will arrive before the end of 2024 and by 2028 there will be a sustainable base on the lunar surface.

NASA has already committed to deals with 15 companies worth over US$370 million to establish the base on the moon.

And the next big step? Travel 65.9 million kilometres to setup base on Mars. I can only assume that there will be at least a 5G network on Mars before that time.

The next frontier truly is space.

It's one small step for phones but one giant leap for phonekind.

Very exciting news for moonwalkers and possibly just a bit annoying for anyone who can't get a signal right here on earth.

Tell me if the mobile phone network is an essential component of your desired amenity for where you live at ask@techtalk.digital.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist and futurist and the founder of several technology start-ups.