Elon Musk’s SpaceX Launches 1st ‘Direct-to-Cell’ Starlink Satellites With T-Mobile

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Launches 1st ‘Direct-to-Cell’ Starlink Satellites With T-Mobile
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is launched with a batch of 53 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 17, 2022. (SpaceX via AP/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
Katabella Roberts

Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Jan. 2 launched its first Starlink satellites capable of providing mobile phone service to customers of T-Mobile and a string of other carriers, even in remote locations.

SpaceX stated that it launched a total of 21 satellites from its Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

The launch included the first six Starlink satellites with “direct-to-cell capabilities,” enabling mobile network operators around the world to provide “seamless global access to texting, calling, and browsing wherever you may be on land, lakes, or coastal waters without changing hardware or firmware. ”

The move is part of SpaceX and T-Mobile’s efforts to provide cellphone users with network access in remote parts of the United States, including locations previously unreachable by traditional cell signals.

Known as the “Coverage Above and Beyond” partnership, the telecommunications company and American spacecraft manufacturer initially announced the joint effort in August 2022.

According to SpaceX, the next generation of Starlink satellites are fitted with an advanced modem acting like a cellphone tower in space to connect directly to cellphones on the T-Mobile network.

Typically, mobile service providers such as T-Mobile use cell towers to transmit service to cellphone users.

‘Significant Milestone’

The majority of smartphones already used by T-Mobile customers will be compatible with Starlink, meaning that customers won’t need to buy any additional equipment.

The two firms called the Jan. 2 launch a “significant milestone” in bolstering connectivity nearly everywhere in the United States, noting that more than half a million square miles of the United States and vast stretches of ocean are unreachable by terrestrial network coverage, despite powerful LTE and 5G wireless networks.

“The launch of these first Direct-to-Cell satellites is an exciting milestone for SpaceX to demonstrate our technology,” said Sara Spangelo, senior 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!”

Along with T-Mobile in the United States, several carriers in other countries also plan to use the direct-to-cell satellites, including Rogers in Canada, KDDI in Japan, Optus in Australia, One NZ in New Zealand, Salt in Switzerland, and Entel in Chile and Peru.

“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,” Mike Katz, president of marketing, strategy, and products at T-Mobile, said in a statement announcing the launch.

‘Connectivity Anywhere on Earth’

Mr. Katz noted that the telecommunications firm hopes to make “dead zones a thing of the past.”

SpaceX received approval from the Federal Communications Commission last month to run tests of its direct-to-cell service. Field testing of Starlink satellites’ ability to connect directly to the T-Mobile network will begin soon, now that the satellites are in low Earth orbit, according to T-Mobile.

Mr. Musk also touted the launch in a post on X, which he also owns, saying that the satellites “will allow for mobile phone connectivity anywhere on Earth.”

The billionaire businessman noted that the satellites “will only support ~7Mb [Megabits] 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.”

According to Starlink’s direct-to-cell website, the satellite services will initially provide text messaging in 2024, with a voice and data service beginning sometime in 2025.

SpaceX’s direct-to-cell satellites will also connect with Internet of Things devices in 2025, according to the company.

Starlink is expected to generate about $10 billion in overall sales this year, Bloomberg reported.