T-Mobile and SpaceX Starlink say your 5G phone will be connected to satellites next year

T-Mobile says it’s getting rid of mobile dead zones thanks to a new partnership with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet at an event hosted by T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and Elon Musk. With their “Coverage Above and Beyond” setup, mobile phones can connect to satellites and use a single piece of connection providing approximately 2 to 4 megabits per second (total) of connections in a given coverage area.

This connection should be enough to let you text, MMS messages, and even use “select messaging apps” whenever you have a clear view of the sky, even when no traditional service is available. According to a press release from T-Mobile, “satellite-to-cellular service” will be available “everywhere in the continental US, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico and territorial waters.” The service is due to launch in beta in “select regions” by the end of next year and Sievert says he hopes to include data someday.

According to Musk, second generation Starlink satellites Launching next year, T-Mobile’s mid-band PCS will be able to broadcast the service using part of the spectrum that Sprint was allowed to buy a few years ago. Musk said the new satellites have “larger, larger antennas” that are 5 to 6 meters across to enable the new connection and that he plans to launch the equipment using his upcoming Starship rocket.

“If there aren’t a lot of people in the cell zone, you could potentially have a little bit of video as well,” Musk said. As Sievert described, operators of messaging apps like WhatsApp or iMessage will need to work with T-Mobile and Starlink for their services to recognize the satellite connection and work with it once it’s launched.

Musk provided a little more detail, saying that, unlike normal Internet service, it can operate without access to Starlink’s full satellite group. By limiting it to certain messages and services, as well as only in places that don’t currently have cellular connectivity, it can use more intermittent connections for “basic” coverage, although you have to wait up to 30 minutes for messages to go through. may fall. Through.

Both executives said they are seeking partnerships with mobile carriers around the world who are interested in reciprocal spectrum sharing agreements so that their customers can connect with SpaceX. T-Mobile customers can still use those connections when in other countries.

musk too said on twitter That one of their other companies, Tesla, will use the technology to feature premium connectivity in its electric vehicles. Currently, Tesla uses AT&T’s network for things like live traffic visualizations, satellite-view maps, and music streaming.

Musk said the service can work even if your phone is in your pocket or in the car.
Image: SpaceX

Sievert says that when it launches, T-Mobile’s “vision” is to include it for free in the carrier’s “most popular plans,” though he said today’s event isn’t an official announcement. He said T-Mobile wants to make it available to people with “low-cost” plans for a “monthly service fee” compared to existing satellite connectivity services. (This potentially covers a wider range of prices, though—Garmin’s InReach satellite messenger subscription plan, for example, starts at $14.95 a month but goes up to $64.95 a month.)

T-Mobile says customers’ existing phones will be able to use the network — no special equipment required. As Elon Musk said in the announcement: “The phone you currently have will work.”

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musco

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musco
Image: SpaceX

The fact that it is using conventional cell spectrum is a double-edged sword. Not requiring special equipment is an obvious advantage, but T-Mobile doesn’t have rights to that spectrum around the world. So while SpaceX’s satellites can technically communicate with phones internationally, T-Mobile may not have rights to the same bands that its system uses when you transfer your phone to another country or in international waters. carry away.

This is not the case with traditional satellite communications networks, such as the Iridium system Garmin uses. If phone makers want to offer their own version of the feature, something Apple is rumored to be working on, partnering with other satellite providers will allow them to do more than what T-Mobile plans to offer. coverage can be obtained.

as Walter PiesikAn analyst at Lightshade Partners told ledge: “Apple and Samsung may have an easier time integrating existing satellite connectivity into their upcoming phones, while Starlink will be faced with wireless operators around the world trying to piece together spectrum rights.”

The fight over spectrum rights can be messy and in fact already is. T-Mobile and Verizon have lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to block a company called AST & Science from launching mobile phone service-providing satellites from space, claiming that its systems interfere with its land-based network. can do SpaceX is embroiled in a battle with Dish Network over 12Ghz spectrum, which the latter wants to use for terrestrial 5G. Musk’s company has warned its home internet users that a dish that uses 12Ghz could completely destroy its satellite internet service. Analysts have also questioned whether the service announced today would require additional approval from the FCC.

Sievert also said that T-Mobile was “open” to the possibility of using SpaceX for its network backhaul in the future, especially in rural areas. While this is a few steps ahead of what the two companies are pitching now (again, Musk says each cell will support about 2-4 megabits), it makes it less difficult for carriers to expand their networks. Can help in making the cost. Such a plan would be similar to Verizon’s announcement of a collaboration with Amazon’s Kuiper satellite internet project, although the plan seems far from coming to fruition, as it appears Amazon has yet to launch any of its satellites.

Earlier this year, SpaceX lost a bid for rural internet subsidies because of the cost of its equipment. But if it can replace T-Mobile’s existing devices, which people in rural areas may already have, it could help the Federal Communications Commission’s case. Thursday’s presentation certainly took a hit on the rural coverage, with videos of people in remote parks, mountains, or grazing animals.

Update 10:15PM ET: Additional information about where the service will be able to cover, plus the premium connectivity Tesla is using in its cars.

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