T-Mobile and SpaceX today announced a plan to provide smartphone networking services almost anywhere in the United States through a new “satellite-to-cellular” service. Elon Musk also announced some related information on Twitter today. He said that the upcoming second-generation Starlink Internet satellite includes a mobile phone antenna, which can be connected to the mobile phone of T-Mobile in the United States, and may also be connected to other operators.
The new technology will use SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit and T-Mobile’s nationwide mid-band 5G spectrum to provide “near-complete coverage” across much of the United States, in addition to territorial waters. If successful, the technology will eliminate “mobile network dead spots,” allowing users to stay connected beyond cell towers.
T-Mobile and SpaceX said they hope to establish reciprocal roaming agreements with international carriers to offer the service globally in the future.
“This is important, it means your phone has no dead spots anywhere in the world,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a news conference announcing the plan. “We’re very excited to partner with T-Mobile Do this together.”
T-Mobile said the “vast majority of smartphones” already connected to its network will be compatible with the new “satellite-to-cellular” service. The satellite connection will use the smartphone’s existing cellular chip and won’t require a Starlink terminal or any other hardware.
According to T-Mobile, “the vast majority” of existing smartphones will be compatible with its satellite-connected service, so the feature shouldn’t have to be used on Apple’s upcoming iPhone 14 models, which were previously said to support satellite connection function.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has reported that the iPhone 14 models may have satellite connectivity for emergency use, but he said Apple’s partner is likely satellite company Globalstar, not SpaceX, so the feature may not be relevant here.
SpaceX plans to build a second-generation Starlink satellite constellation in low Earth orbit, equipped with advanced antennas, and smartphones can connect through T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G spectrum without any additional hardware.
T-Mobile said the service would provide “almost complete coverage anywhere a customer can see the sky,” while Elon Musk said it would also work when a person has their phone in their pocket or in their car. networking.
What is the purpose of a satellite connection? T-Mobile and SpaceX say the satellite-to-phone service is primarily designed for areas without existing cellular coverage to eliminate mobile dead spots.
The service isn’t meant to replace faster cell phone networks in cities and suburbs, but to ensure that people in areas without cell towers can stay connected for basic communication via text messages and eventually phone calls.
When and where will the service be launched? T-Mobile and SpaceX plan to launch the beta service in late 2023, starting in select regions of the United States. The service will eventually cover most of the continental U.S., Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico and U.S. territorial waters. T-Mobile and SpaceX said they hope to establish reciprocal roaming agreements with international carriers to offer the service globally in the future.
How much will this service cost? T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said the company plans to offer Starlink satellite connectivity on its “most popular package” at no extra cost. For some lower-priced plans, T-Mobile may charge a monthly fee to use the service, which will be priced “well below” what existing satellite service providers are offering, Sievert said.
Does the service work with phone calls and text messages? What about iMessage? According to T-Mobile and SpaceX, Starlink’s direct satellite connection to smartphones will initially work with SMS and MMS text messages and “participating messaging apps.” The announcement didn’t mention any participating messaging apps, so it’s unclear whether Apple’s iMessage service will be supported.
As for the network, Musk said that the initial network speed is only 2~4Mbps, which can only be used to send text messages and make calls. Separately, Musk responded to a question on Twitter about whether the connections would work with Tesla’s electric vehicles. It is reported that the cars are currently connected to AT&T’s LTE network. According to Musk, the answer is yes.