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

T-Mobile announces it’s getting rid of mobile dead zones through 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” configuration, mobile phones could connect to satellites and use a connection slice providing approximately 2 to 4 megabits per second of connection (total) over a given coverage area.

According to Musk, second generation Starlink satellites next year’s launch will be able to stream a service using some of T-Mobile’s mid-band PCS spectrum, which was boosted when it was allowed to buy Sprint a few years ago. Musk said the new satellites have “big, big antennas” 5 to 6 meters in diameter to accommodate the new connections and the plan is to launch the equipment using his next Starship rocket.

The company says it will let you text, send MMS, and even use “certain messaging apps” whenever you have a clear view of the sky, even if there’s no sky. no traditional service available. According to a press release from T-Mobile, “satellite-to-cellular service” will be available “across the continental United States, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico and territorial waters.”

“If there aren’t too many people in the cellular zone, you might even get some video,” Musk said. As Sievert described it, operators of messaging apps like WhatsApp or iMessage will need to work with T-Mobile and Starlink to get their services to recognize the satellite connection and work with it once it launches.

Musk provided a bit more detail saying that, unlike regular internet service, it could work without access to Starlink’s full constellation of satellites. By limiting it to certain messages and services, as well as only places that don’t currently have cellular connectivity, it could use a more intermittent connection for “basic” coverage, although you might have to wait 30 minutes for a message to go through.

The two executives said they are looking for partnerships with mobile carriers around the world who would be interested in reciprocal spectrum-sharing agreements so their customers can connect to SpaceX. T-Mobile customers could also use these connections when traveling to other countries.

musk too said on Twitter that one of its other companies, Tesla, will use the technology for high-end connectivity functionality in its electric vehicles. Currently, Tesla uses AT&T’s network for things like live traffic viewing, satellite maps, and music streaming.

Musk said the service can even work when your phone is in your pocket or in a car.
Picture: SpaceX

The service will launch in beta by the end of next year in “select areas”, and Sievert says he hopes it will include data one day. He says that when it launches, T-Mobile’s “vision” is for it to be included free in the carrier’s “most popular plans”, although he said today’s event n is not an official announcement. He said T-Mobile wants to make it available to people with “low-cost” plans for a lower “monthly service fee” than current satellite connectivity services. (That potentially encompasses a wide price range, though — Garmin’s InReach satellite messaging subscription plans, for example, start at $14.95 per month but go up to $64.95 per month.)

T-Mobile says subscribers’ current phones will be able to use the network – no special equipment is required. As Elon Musk said in the ad, “the phone you currently have will work.”

Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile, and Elon Musk, chief engineer of SpaceX

Mike Sievert, CEO of T-Mobile, and Elon Musk, chief engineer of SpaceX
Picture: SpaceX

The fact that it uses the traditional cellular spectrum is a bit of a double edged sword. Not requiring special equipment is an obvious advantage, but T-Mobile does not own the rights to this spectrum worldwide. So while SpaceX’s satellites can technically communicate with phones internationally, T-Mobile may not have the rights to the same bands its system uses when you take your phone to another country or to the waters. international.

This is not the case for traditional satellite communication networks, such as the Iridium system used by Garmin. If phone makers want to introduce their own version of this feature, which Apple is rumored to be working on, partnering with other satellite providers could give them more coverage than T-Mobile plans to offer.

As Walter Piecykanalyst at Lightshed Partners, says The edge“Apple and Samsung may have an easier time integrating existing satellite connectivity into their upcoming phones than Starlink will have to deal with trying to reconcile spectrum rights with wireless carriers around the world.”

Fights over spectrum rights could get messy and have. T-Mobile and Verizon have lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to stop a company called AST & Science from launching satellites that could provide cell phone service from space, saying its system could interfere with its terrestrial networks. SpaceX is embroiled in a battle with Dish Networks over 12Ghz spectrum, which the latter wants to use for terrestrial 5G. Musk’s company has warned its home internet users that Dish using 12Ghz could totally destroy its satellite internet service. Analysts even wondered if the service announced today would require additional FCC approvals.

Sievert also said T-Mobile is “open” to using SpaceX for its network backhaul in the future, especially in rural areas. While that’s a few steps up from what the two companies currently offer (again, Musk says each cell will support around 2-4 megabits), it could help make it less expensive for the carrier to use. expand your network. Such a plan would be similar to what Verizon has announced in conjunction with Amazon’s Kuiper Satellite Internet Project, although that plan seems much further away from fruition as Amazon does not appear to have launched any of its satellites yet. .

Earlier this year, SpaceX lost a bid for rural internet grants due to the cost of its equipment. But if he can build on existing T-Mobile equipment, which rural residents may already have, that could help his case with the Federal Communications Commission. Thursday’s presentation certainly focused on rural coverage, with videos of people in remote parks, mountains or herds of animals.

Update at 10:15 p.m. ET: added information on where the service will be able to cover, as well as Tesla using it for premium connectivity in its cars.

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