Yesterday, SpaceX and T-Mobile announced they would be holding an event. With Musk hyping up the event as “something special” and “big news,” speculation was rife on Twitter with guesses as to what the big announcement could be. Now, it is clear that the announcement lives up to those expectations, as T-Mobile and Starlink announced Coverage Above & Beyond – a direct Starlink connection to phones that will bring cellular connectivity to anywhere in the world, regardless of how close you are to any cell tower.
SpaceX started the presentation by highlighting the needs for communication in the “nearly 20% unreachable by traditional wireless networks.” Starlink’s main terminals bring high speed internet to those locations, but are are large, expensive, and require a clear line of sight to the whole sky.
With this latest move, T-Mobile aims to totally eliminate mobile dead-zones by integrating mid-band PCS spectrum into Starlink V2 satellites launching as soon as next year. This will allow phones to connect directly to the satellites, wihtout any changes needed to those phones. This will allow MMS text messages, and eventually voice and data anywhere in the world. T-Mobile also announced that they plan to include this service on its standard plans, for no additional or increased cost.
While the speeds and connectivity is far more limited than the full-size terminals, just two to four megabits per cellular zone, this partership will can provide life-saving connectivity when it is needed. Of course, to connect to such small antennas on the ground, large and powerful antennas are needed in space. This will come with the second generation satellites, which are set to launch on SpaceX’s Starship rocket, though Musk clarified that there could be an interim satellite that may launch on Falcon 9’s smaller fairing if Starship is delayed more than expected.
This won’t go live for some time, with the earliest connectivity expected in late 2023. While this parnership is between SpaceX and T-Mobile, the companies shared aspirational plans for “reciprical roaming,” where other carriers will share aspects of their spectrum to the satellites, so as many people as possible have service in as many locations as possible.
T-Mobile as said that they are “open to” using Starlink for some of their data backhaul, though they don’t have specific plans at the moment.
While there was speculation about Apple brining satellite connection to iPhones with iPhone 13 and once again with iPhone 14, with these satellite using existing bands, any additional hardware or software won’t be necessary for even already released iPhones and Android devices to have support for this.
These antennas will be supplemental to the Ku, Ka band, and laser links, and will fold out from the body of the satelite to “roughly 25 square meters,” according to Musk.
This story is being continually updated as the companies share more information…