SpaceX To Begin Testing Starlink Satellite-to-Cell Service With T-Mobile This Year

SpaceX to begin testing the Starlink satellite-to-cell service with T-Mobile this year 8 photos
Photo: SpaceX | Edited
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Last year, SpaceX partnered with T-Mobile to offer sat-to-cell services to the cell phone company's customers and Tesla owners. The new service would connect areas without cell coverage, leveraging Starlink V2 satellites' capabilities. According to a SpaceX executive, the two companies will start testing the service this year.
SpaceX is the go-to satellite internet provider for more than one million people in remote areas, thanks to a blend of high-speed, low latency (for a satellite service), and affordable prices. Starlink has already entered the mainstream, and Elon Musk wants to push the boundaries even more with the second-generation Starlink satellites. The Starlink V2 can communicate directly with most cell phones, acting like a "cell tower in the sky." This can potentially eliminate dead zones for millions of cell phone users.

SpaceX partnered with T-Mobile to develop the Starlink sat-to-cell service, and the telco said that the service would be free to most of its customers. Tesla owners enrolled in the Premium connectivity plan would also benefit. At 2-4 Mbps per cell zone, the direct connection is not fast enough for streaming. Still, it could prove a lifeline for people in difficulty, enabling text messages and even phone calls in areas without cell coverage.

According to Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX vice president of Starlink enterprise sales, SpaceX plans to begin testing the sat-to-cell service with T-Mobile this year. Speaking on a panel at the Satellite 2023 conference in Washington, D.C., Hofeller thinks there's a lot to learn by launching the new service in a market with immense potential. Direct satellite connectivity is attractive for devices beyond cell phones, like computers, vehicles, and others.

SpaceX has around 4,000 satellites in orbit and has recently started launching the Starlink V2 Mini satellites, which have four times the capacity of the previous generation. They also offer the sat-to-cell capability. Currently, SpaceX is manufacturing around six Starlink V2 satellites per day, alongside thousands of user terminals daily. The company has accelerated satellite deployment, going from one launch a month to twice per week, which is unprecedented.

SpaceX plans to build even larger V2 satellites, but launching them is closely tied to the Starship becoming operational. We guess they are big enough that the Falcon 9 could not carry them into space. Elon Musk hinted that Starship could begin its first orbital flight this month, although many variables could delay the launch.

Even with 4,000 satellites in orbit, Starlink satellite service is crowded, with quality deteriorating in some areas. This has encouraged SpaceX to raise the tariffs and also charge more for the same service when it is offered in areas with limited capacity. The new pricing based on availability will enter into effect from April 24, 2023, although new customers will be billed according to the updated fees immediately.

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About the author: Cristian Agatie
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After his childhood dream of becoming a "tractor operator" didn't pan out, Cristian turned to journalism, first in print and later moving to online media. His top interests are electric vehicles and new energy solutions.
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