On Thursday, Elon Musk announced on stage with T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert that SpaceX is working with the carrier to completely eliminate the cellular dead zone. The companies claim that the next-generation Starlink satellites, set to launch next year, will be able to communicate directly with phones, letting you text, make calls, and potentially stream video, even if There should be no cell tower nearby. Furthermore, Musk promised that all of this is possible with the phones people are using today, without consumers having to purchase any additional devices.
It’s a bold proclamation from the carrier – Verizon and AT&T don’t offer anything like it. However, SpaceX and T-Mobile aren’t the only companies that want to use satellites to communicate directly with cell phones using existing cell spectrum. For years a company called AST Spacemobile has promised it will deliver broadband from space to phones, and a company called Link Global has already demonstrated that its satellite “cell towers” can be used to send text messages from regular phones. could. It’s easy to imagine that these companies would fear that the two giants were suddenly looking to engage in a similar game – but it turns out that’s not the case at all. They seem really pleased.
Who’s Competing With SpaceX and T-Mobile in Satellite-to-Phone Technology?
“We love the validation and attention this technology is bringing to us,” Link’s CEO, Charles Miller, said in an interview. ledge, “We’re getting all kinds of calls from carriers today asking ‘Help us!’ are like”
Link’s initial goal is similar to that of SpaceX — it’s partnering with several carriers around the world to send texts to its customers using a satellite network that’s currently in the process of being built. Like T-Mobile’s presentation, Miller emphasized the importance of the technology, especially during emergencies and natural disasters, where things like hurricanes, wildfires, floods or earthquakes can take down traditional cell networks. “It’s flexibility. It’s instant backup that’s working for everyone on Earth. Your phones, even if the towers are down, can communicate,” he said. “It will save lives.”
Miller’s pitch is very similar to Sievert’s and Musk’s pitch, but he isn’t particularly concerned about competing in the same venue (pun intended). Part of their confidence comes from Link being an early leader in the market – it claims that in early 2020, it became the first to send a text message to an unmodified cell phone from space. “We think more big companies are going to get into it. They have years and years to come. They are years behind us,” he said. “We are going to be like ‘Wonderful! Educate the world that this technology is done. And when we start rolling it out later this year, people are going to go, ‘I want this.’ They don’t want to wait years for this.”
Scott Wisniewski, AST’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer, echoed a similar sentiment. “Our CEO actually tweeted, and they said we’re glad they’re focusing on this real big market and this real big need. And it was comforting to hear people say that technology works for them,” he said. He also predicted that the market for satellite-to-phone communications would not be a winner-take-all. “In terms of the overall market, it will be a multiple winner in our view.”
Elon and Mike helped focus the world’s attention on the huge market opportunity for SpaceMobile, the only planned space-based cellular broadband network. Bluewalker 3, which has an area of 693 square feet, is set to launch in a matter of weeks! #5G
— Abel Avellan (@AbelAvellan) 26 August 2022
AST’s service is perhaps even more ambitious than T-Mobile’s announcement. Sievert said he hopes T-Mobile will someday be able to deliver data via SpaceX’s satellites, where AST’s Express goal is to operate 4G and 5G networks. It’s betting that the idea of broadband will be more attractive than just being able to send text messages and make calls from remote locations. “We all really understand that phones can often go out of service, or coverage can be poor. And that was a point that T-Mobile highlighted. So our solution is really attractive in this regard,” Wisniewski said.
Where SpaceX and T-Mobile’s plans are largely limited to the US and its territories – the wireless spectrum SpaceX is using for its service is owned and operated by other carriers and agencies internationally, so This requires additional deals to work anywhere outside the US. – AST and LINK have global aspirations. AST has secured an investment and five-year exclusivity deal with Vodafone, one of the world’s largest cell providers, and has also received investment from Rakuten, a mobile carrier in Japan. Miller says Link is testing its service in 10 countries “as we speak” and has been able to offer it in dozens more.
Even T-Mobile and SpaceX’s announcement timing is perfect for AST and LINK, as they point out. The first is getting ready to launch a test satellite in a matter of weeks (with five more slated for 2023), and the latter plans to launch its commercial service with 14 network operators by the end of the year. If there was an ideal time for consumers to become very interested in exactly what you’re working on, just like you’re about to take a big first step, that might be it.
How the Apple and iPhone 14 rumors fit into this conundrum
Tim Farrar, an analyst at satellite and telecoms-focused consulting and research firm Telecom, Media and Finance Associates, however, thinks it may be time for T-Mobile as another big competitor is about to enter the market — one that has AST may have advantages, SpaceX, and LINK not. “What happens with Apple next week is going to be an issue,” he said, referring to rumors that the next iPhone might be able to communicate with the Globalstar satellite network for emergency purposes.
If that happens, he says, iPhone users may get the feature very soon, and in a version that includes international support from the start. “I think what’s likely is that if Apple announces something next week, it’s going to be something that’s ready to go as soon as the phone becomes available. Because if they’ve partnered with Globalstar, Globalstar has the first There are already 24 satellites operating in space that you can communicate with, and they have licenses from the FCC and many other international jurisdictions.
That last part is especially important. According to Farrar, Apple only has to obtain device authorization from the FCC through a “simple and well-defined” process, and it’s off to the races. For other companies — including SpaceX — that want to transmit from space using spectrum licensed by cell carriers, it’s not that easy. Historically, satellites used satellite spectrum, and cell towers used terrestrial spectrum. But Farrar says that satellite-to-cell technology mixes the two in a way that currently regulations don’t actually allow it. “It’s a big regulation change for the FCC. And it’s something they’ve been considering for two years and haven’t really arrived at a solution.”
T-Mobile’s carrier competitor may try to find a way to block SpaceX from using the carrier’s spectrum, which could further complicate things. “There’s going to be a lot of fighting over the use of terrestrial spectrum on satellites,” Farrar said. “When AST was looking to partner with AT&T to test their systems, interference concerns had already been expressed. No major wireless carrier wants their competitors to take advantage. So clearly From now on, people will oppose any application for the use of T-Mobile spectrum on satellites. And the FCC will have to make a decision that can’t be reached very quickly.”
In fact, Miller wouldn’t actually talk about Spectrum, saying that Link has “an open issue” with it. Wisniewski said one of AST’s plans to tackle spectrum issues is to work with carriers to get approval from regulators. He also said that the nature of service delivery where there is currently no service can make things a little easier. “We share spectrum with mobile network operators on a non-interference basis in places where they do not have towers.”
While AST has regulatory approval for commercial operations in seven countries, according to Wisniewski, the FCC has only authorized it to test its satellite for service to the US on an experimental basis.
As for SpaceX and T-Mobile, their plans are largely out, giving the companies time to try and work with regulators — they don’t even expect to begin testing their service until late next year. .
If one company can break through to phones connecting to satellite networks, however, it can potentially help all other companies. For example, if Tim Cook comes on stage on September 7th and announces that you can send emergency satellite messages from the iPhone 14, a lot of people who don’t use iPhones will get real jealousy real quick. Is gonna. This could increase pressure on the FCC to authorize satellite-to-phone technology for carriers and their satellite communications partners. And if T-Mobile has it, you know AT&T and Verizon will be making some calls. (Farrar thinks that other handset makers that don’t have as much power as Apple or Samsung would find it difficult to offer a similar feature – carriers may fight them, arguing that their phones should be replaced by carriers’ satellites instead. abilities should be used.)
Verizon specifically already has an agreement for satellite connectivity, though in a different form. It has partnered with Amazon’s Kuiper Project, which aims to build a satellite constellation similar to SpaceX. Instead of having direct satellite-to-phone communications, Verizon plans to feed remote cell towers with satellite service, not run fiber or cable to them. During Thursday’s event, Sievert said that T-Mobile was open to the possibility of doing something similar with SpaceX.
Neither Verizon nor Amazon Responded ledgeRequest for comment on whether they will revise their plans based on the announcement from T-Mobile and SpaceX.
As for AST and LINK, no company is particularly interested in competing on that front. “You don’t need to build these remote cell towers if your phone is already connected to a satellite,” Miller said.
Elon Musk lets the satellite-to-phone cat out of the bag
At this point, there’s really only one thing that’s completely clear: T-Mobile and SpaceX have let a genie pop out of a bottle. He announced loudly, that soon your phone will be able to connect to satellites, giving you at least some level of communication, even if you’re in areas that have traditionally been completely isolated.
There are a number of ways things could turn out from here – AST’s tests could show that, yes, you can actually beam relatively fast internet from space to phones and give consumers what T-Mobile and SpaceX set out to do, Can raise the bar for more than that. This. Or maybe regulators can suddenly figure things out before T-Mobile is out of beta, letting the link swoon. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that everyone will get caught up in a major regulatory mess, forcing Apple to come in and do its job with an entirely different kind of technology.
All that is happening, though, people know that it’s currently possible to talk to satellite thanks to the phones they have in their pockets. And like Miller said, now that I’ve seen it and know the technology is on its way soon, I want it – no matter what satellite my phone has to talk to.