Elon Musk announces Starlink will provide dead-zone coverage for T-Mobile

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T-Mobile says it is removing mobile dead zones thanks to a new partnership with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet, at an event hosted by T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and Elon Musk. With their “over and out coverage” configuration, cell phones can connect to satellites and use a portion of a connection that provides approximately 2 to 4 megabits per second (total) of connection over a given coverage area.

According to Musk, second generation Starlink satellites launching next year, the service will be able to broadcast 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 will have “big, big antennas” that are 5 to 6 meters wide to enable the new connections and that the plan is to launch the equipment using the upcoming Starship rocket.

The company says you can text, send MMS messages and even use “select messaging apps” when you have a clear view of the sky, even if no traditional service is available. According to a T-Mobile press release, the “satellite-to-mobile service” will be available “everywhere in the continental US, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico and territorial waters.”

“If there aren’t too many people in the cell zone, you might even have a little bit of video,” Musk said. As Sievert described it, messaging app operators such as WhatsApp or iMessage will have to partner with T-Mobile and Starlink for their services to recognize and work with the satellite connection once it launches.

Musk gave a little more detail, saying that unlike the usual internet service, it could work without access to Starlink’s entire satellite constellation. By limiting it to certain messages and services, and only in places that currently don’t have cellular connectivity, it could use a more intermittent connection for “basic” coverage, although you may have to wait 30 minutes for a message to be sent through.

The two executives said they are seeking partnerships with mobile carriers around the world who would be interested in mutual spectrum sharing agreements so that their customers can connect to SpaceX. T-Mobile customers could also use those connections when coming to other countries.

Musk too said on Twitter that one of its other companies, Tesla, will use the technology for the premium connectivity feature in its electric vehicles. Currently, Tesla uses AT&T’s network for things like live traffic visualization, satellite mapping and music streaming.

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

The service will launch in beta in “select territories” late next year, and Sievert says he hopes it will someday include data. He says T-Mobile’s “vision” at launch is for it to be included in the carrier’s “most popular plans” for free, though he did say today’s event isn’t an official announcement. He said T-Mobile wants to make it available to those on “low cost” plans for a “monthly service fee” that is lower than current satellite link services. (That might include a wide range of pricing, though — Garmin’s InReach satellite messenger plans, for example, start at $14.95 per month, but go up to $64.95 per month.)

T-Mobile says current subscriber phones can use the network — no special equipment required. As Elon Musk said in the announcement, “the phone you have now will work.”

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

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX chief engineer Elon Musk
Image: SpaceX

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

That’s not the case for traditional satellite communications networks, such as the Iridium system Garmin uses. If phone makers wanted to introduce their own version of this feature, something Apple is reportedly working on, partnering with other satellite carriers could get them more coverage than T-Mobile intended to provide.

As Walter Piecykan analyst at Lightshed Partners, says: The edge“It may be easier for Apple and Samsung to integrate existing satellite connections into their future phones than it is for Starlink in trying to forge spectrum rights with wireless operators around the world.”

Spectrum rights battles can get messy and indeed they already 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 services from space, claiming the system could power the land-based networks. to disturb. SpaceX is engaged in a battle with Dish Networks over the 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 completely destroy its satellite internet service. Analysts have even questioned whether the service announced today will require additional approvals from the FCC.

Sievert also said T-Mobile was “open” to the possibility of using SpaceX for its network backhaul in the future, especially in rural areas. While that’s a few steps beyond what the two companies are offering now (again, Musk says each cell will support about 2-4 megabits), it could help make it cheaper for the carrier to expand its network. Such a plan would be similar to what Verizon announced in conjunction with Amazon’s Kuiper satellite internet project, though that plan seems much further away from completion as Amazon doesn’t appear to have launched any of its satellites yet.

Earlier this year, SpaceX lost a bid for nationwide internet subsidies because of the cost of its equipment. But if it can piggyback on T-Mobile’s existing equipment, which people in rural areas may already own, that could help her case with the Federal Communications Commission. Thursday’s presentation was sure to be a hit in the countryside, with videos of people in remote parks, the mountains or herding animals.

Update 10:15 PM ET: added information about where the service can be covered, and how Tesla uses it for premium connectivity in its cars.


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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