Until now, satellite connectivity achieved with phones such as those shipped by Apple or Samsung has been limited to emergency SMS messaging. Elon Musk promises to expand satellite connectivity to smartphone devices with unrestricted internet access via the Starlink satellite network.
SpaceX and US mobile operator T-Mobile confirm they will provide 5G coverage wherever it’s needed, including offshore, by converting satellites in the Starlink constellation into 5G relays. The timing could be more significant than the initial launch of the Starlink network, meaning that anyone with a 5G-compatible phone will be 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.
The initiative was made official on December 6 with the filing of a request to the US Federal Communications Commission, formally seeking authorization to equip some of Starlink’s second-generation satellites with direct-to-cellular hardware. Although, applicable only within the US, this was a key regulatory hurdle that Elon Musk’s space company needs to clear in order to deliver on an August announcement with T-Mobile to connect the two data networks in the name of eradicating mobile dead zones, at least in much of the US.
For now, the announcement only targets T-Mobile customers across the US, promising them Starlink connectivity to any location in the country as long as they have fully open skies overhead. In practice, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that the Starlink network actually has global coverage, and similar arrangements can be negotiated with telecom operators in other parts of the world .Apparently, the only hardware requirement is that the 5G phone natively supports the n41 band of 5G communications (part of the 2.5GHz spectrum).
The new service provided by Starlink would come as an extension of terrestrial mobile phone network coverage, allowing voice calls, messaging and basic web browsing at theoretical maximum speeds of up to 3.0 Mbps – 7.2 Mbps for upload and up to 4.4 Mbps – 18.3 Mbps download.
SpaceX’s promised service would be provided using 2,000 second-generation Starlink satellites, adding to the constellation of 3,500 first-generation satellites. The Starlink Gen 2 network is expected to be operational around 2024.