At an event that was co-hosted by T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and Elon Musk, T-Mobile claims that mobile dead zones would no longer exist thanks to a new agreement with SpaceX‘s Starlink satellite internet. 5G mobile phones can connect to satellites and use a portion of a connection that provided 2 to 4 Megabits per second connection (total) throughout a specific coverage area with their “Coverage Above and Beyond” solution.
If you have a clear view of the sky, you should be able to use that connection to the text, send MMS messages, and even use “select messaging apps” when there is no conventional service available. According to a press release from T-Mobile, the “satellite-to-cellular service” will be available “everywhere in the continental US, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico, and territorial waters.” By the end of the year, the service is expected to go into beta in “select areas,” and Sievert says he expects that someday data will be included.
Musk claims that when the second generation of Starlink satellites called Starlink V2 is launched the next year, they will be able to broadcast service via some of the mid-band PCS frequency that T-Mobile has access to thanks to its recent acquisition of Sprint. To enable the new connections, Musk claimed that the new satellites have “big, big antennas” that are 5 to 6 meters broad. Musk also stated that the equipment will be launched using its future Starship rocket.
You might even have a little bit of video if there aren’t too many people in the cell zone, Musk claimed. According to Sievert, for their services to recognize and use the satellite connection whenever it starts, owners of messaging apps like WhatsApp or iMessage would need to collaborate with T-Mobile and Starlink.
Musk added a little more information when he said that, unlike standard internet service, it could operate without having access to the entire constellation of Starlink satellites. It might use a more irregular connection for “basic” coverage by limiting it to specific messages and services and only in areas without current cellular access, even though you might have to wait 30 minutes for a message to be delivered.
For their customers to interact with SpaceX, the two executives stated that they are looking to work with mobile carriers around the world that are interested in reciprocal spectrum sharing agreements. Customers of T-Mobile could use those connections when traveling abroad.
On Twitter, Musk also mentioned that one of his other companies, Tesla, would make use of the technology for its premium connection features in its electric vehicles (EVs). Currently, Tesla uses AT&T‘s network for services like streaming music, satellite-view maps, and live traffic visualization.
Although he did say that today’s event isn’t an official announcement, Sievert claims that T-Mobile’s “vision” is for it to be offered for free on the carrier’s “most popular plans” when it launches. According to him, T-Mobile aims to provide it for a “monthly service fee” that is less than what is already charged for satellite connectivity services to customers with “low cost” plans.
T-Mobile says that subscribers’ current 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.”
It has some benefits and drawbacks because it uses a typical cell spectrum. The benefit of not requiring specialized equipment is evident, but T-Mobile does not globally control the rights to that spectrum. However, even though SpaceX’s satellites may theoretically interact with phones internationally, T-Mobile may not have access to the same bands its system utilizes when you move your phone to another country or into international waters.
For conventional satellite networks, such as the Iridium system used by Garmin, such is not the case. Working with other satellite providers may give phone makers broader coverage than T-Mobile’s planning to offer if they chose to launch their own version of this service, something Apple is believed to be developing.
“Apple and Samsung might have an easier time integrating existing satellite connectivity into their upcoming phones than Starlink will face in trying to cobble together spectrum rights with wireless operators around the globe,” says Walter Piecyk, an analyst at LightShed Partners, in a statement to The Verge.
Spectrum rights disputes have already resulted in a nasty situation. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been urged by T-Mobile and Verizon to prevent AST & Science from launching satellites that might offer mobile phone service from orbit because they fear the technology could interfere with their existing land-based networks.
Dish Networks and SpaceX are involved in a conflict over the 12Ghz spectrum, which the latter wants to use for terrestrial 5G. The home internet subscribers of Musk‘s company have been informed that Dish’s use of 12Ghz could completely disrupt its satellite internet service. Analysts have even questioned whether the service that was just announced will need any extra FCC clearances.
Additionally, Sievert stated that T-Mobile was “open” to using SpaceX for network backhaul in the future, particularly in rural areas. Although that’s a step up from what the two businesses are proposing right now (Musk believes each cell will support somewhere between 2-4 megabits), it might let the carrier extend its network for less money.
Such a strategy would be comparable to what Verizon revealed in conjunction with Amazon’s Kuiper satellite internet project, albeit that strategy appears to be further in the future given that Amazon doesn’t appear to have launched any of its satellites yet.
Due to the price of its equipment, SpaceX earlier this year was unsuccessful in its bid for rural internet subsidies. However, if it can use T-Mobile’s current infrastructure, which some residents of rural areas may already own, it might support its position with the FCC The Thursday presentation certainly hit on rural coverage, with videos of people in remote parks, the mountains, or herding animals.
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