SpaceX and T-Mobile partner up to link satellites to cell phones

Ending cellular dead zones in the U.S. is the ultimate goal.
Ameya Paleja
elon musk.jpg
Elon Musk and Mike Sievert at the event.


Cellular service provider T-Mobile has teamed up with Elon Musk's SpaceX to provide universal coverage using the constellation of Starlink satellites, a press release reveals.

Cellular services have gone through many iterations since their first roll-out. Most countries around the world are currently seeing a roll-out of the fifth generation (5G) of mobile connections that allows the bandwidth for high-speed gaming and streaming high-definition videos.

Yet, many parts of the U.S. mainland and across the globe are network dead zones, where not even one service provider is available to provide basic telephony services. These areas can only be served by satellite phones (satphones) with high subscription fees. This is something SpaceX and T-Mobile plan to eliminate with their recent announcement.

How will the coverage work?

Cellular service providers often have to face obstacles such as land-use restrictions applicable in areas such as National Parks and terrain limits of various geographies they operate in that lead to network dead zones. However, as the satellite internet experience has shown, even the remotest of areas can be covered with a constellation of satellites in low-earth orbits.

The collaboration between T-Mobile and SpaceX, however, goes a step forward to ensure that the coverage can be provided using the same equipment that the user currently has. So, no need to buy a dish terminal or proprietary hardware. The cellphone you are using to read this article perhaps could still be able to access these services when they are launched in beta by the end of next year.

Elon Musk also tweeted that users could expect 2-4M bits of data speeds in each cell zone, which could work for texting and voice calls but not high bandwidth.

To do so, T-Mobile and SpaceX will create a new network using Starlink's satellites and the cellular provider's mid-band spectrum in the U.S. Initially, this network will allow users access to text services over SMS, MMS as well as participating messaging apps. The service can be expected across the continental U.S., Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico, and territorial waters in a beta version after SpaceX's planned launches next year.

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What can Tesla users expect next?

With SpaceX rolling out services for T-Mobile, Tesla users were interested in knowing whether similar services would be rolled out for their electric vehicles that currently use AT&T's LTE network. To this, Elon Musk responded, yes.

While Musk did not go into finer details of how this would work out, The Verge reported that the services could be rolled out as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which uses multiple carriers as its backbone.

Alternatively, Tesla could switch its carrier to T-Mobile. T-Mobile has reached out to other cellular network carriers to work with it through reciprocal roaming arrangements to provide global connectivity to users.

Over the years, Tesla has been scaling back the standard connectivity packages it offers with its electric vehicles. Some Telsa users need to upgrade their connectivity packages to Premium by paying $9.99 a month or $99 a year to run services or features that aren't covered by the standard plan.

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