After SpaceX announced that it can deliver 5G internet directly from space, with Apple indicating that it could support the technology on future iPhone and Watch models, now it’s Google’s turn to make a move, with Vice President Hiroshi Lockheimer confirming that the technology will be officially supported starting with Android 14.
The news comes after SpaceX and US carrier T-Mobile announced at a press conference that they will offer 5G coverage wherever it’s needed, including offshore.
5G coverage for smartphones will be provided using specially developed satellites, with the first such equipment due to be launched into orbit and added to the Starlink constellation in the first half of September 2022. Following the initial test period, in which coverage will be limited to a few regions across the US, SpaceX will expand coverage along the lines of Starlink, with anyone with a 5G-compatible phone able to get mobile coverage and mobile internet access from anywhere in the world and without the prospect of censorship by ordering a SIM card from one of Elon Musk’s company’s partner carriers. Basically, connecting directly to SpaceX satellites will be handled on the phone in the same way as roaming connections, allowing both voice calls to the phone number and mobile internet access.
Barring the use of a supported Android or iOS version, the only hardware requirement is that the 5G phone natively supports the 5G communications n41 band (part of the 2.5GHz spectrum).
Since we are talking about connections with 5G satellites in Earth orbit, we cannot expect the signal to penetrate inside buildings, with the coverage thus obtained with Starlink satellites acting as a fallback, in case the connection cannot be obtained with ground-based phone relays.
As a solution of last resort, the fact that the Internet connection speed is capped at 2-4 Mbps should not be of concern to anyone. It is likely that this limitation will gradually be lifted as the number of satellites available for connection increases. Elon Musk also says that any connected satellite can handle between 1000 and 2000 phone calls at a time, along with countless SMS messages.
Vice President Lockheimer notes that Google is already working with partners to enable satellite communication functionality for phones starting next year. However, it’s unclear whether the term partners refers to satellite connectivity service providers like SpaceX and OneWeb, or mobile operators like T-Mobile, or both.