SpaceX launches first set of Starlink satellites with direct-to-cell capabilities
SpaceX successfully launched its initial group of six Starlink satellites, paving the way for direct-to-cell internet service from space. T-Mobile US revealed the news on Wednesday, noting that the Falcon 9 rocket, sent into orbit by Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Tuesday, carried the first batch of Starlink satellites designed to transmit phone signals directly to smartphones.
In a collaboration announced back in August 2022, T-Mobile, a major U.S. wireless carrier, will utilize SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to offer network access to mobile users in select regions of the United States. T-Mobile added that five international partners have also joined the company and SpaceX on their quest for global connectivity.
These satellites boast the capability to deliver global texting, calling, and browsing without requiring specialized hardware or firmware. Operating as space-based cellphone towers, the modems on these satellites aim to eliminate coverage gaps through seamless network integration. T-Mobile in the U.S., Rogers in Canada, and Optus in Australia are among the partner providers set to leverage this technology.
In a global partnership, wireless providers such as Japan’s KDDI, Australia’s Optus, New Zealand’s One NZ, and Canada’s Rogers will collaborate with SpaceX to introduce direct-to-cell technology.
T-Mobile anticipates launching the direct-to-cell service initially with text messaging, with plans to expand to voice and data capabilities in the upcoming years.
“Our mission is to be the best in the world at connecting customers to their world and today is another step forward in keeping our customers connected even in the most remote locations for added peace of mind when they need it most,” said Mike Katz, President of Marketing, Strategy and Products, T-Mobile. “Today’s launch is a pivotal moment for this groundbreaking alliance with SpaceX and our global partners around the world, as we work to make dead zones a thing of the past.”
In a related report, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on X (formerly Twitter) that the new Starlink satellites will allow for mobile phone connectivity anywhere on Earth.”
“Note, this only supports ~7Mb per beam and the beams are very big, so while this is a great solution for locations with no cellular connectivity, it is not meaningfully competitive with existing terrestrial cellular networks,” Musk wrote.
This will allow for mobile phone connectivity anywhere on Earth.
Note, this only supports ~7Mb per beam and the beams are very big, so while this is a great solution for locations with no cellular connectivity, it is not meaningfully competitive with existing terrestrial… https://t.co/ymHpw8XBHl
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 3, 2024
“The launch of these first Direct to Cell satellites is an exciting milestone for SpaceX to demonstrate our technology,” said Dr. Sara Spangelo, Sr. Director of Satellite Engineering. “We look forward to rapidly scaling up Direct to Cell with our partner operators around the world and rolling out messaging service for T-Mobile customers!”