According to Starlink’s recently updated promotional website, the much-anticipated Direct-to-Cell satellite cellular service launch would supposedly start rolling out for SMS in 2024. The technology will eventually “enable ubiquitous access to texting, calling, and browsing wherever you may be on land, lakes, or coastal waters,” and link to IoT devices via the LTE standard.
The idea, which was first introduced last August at the “Coverage and Above and Beyond” event, has now been partnered on by Starlink and T-Mobile. In exchange for access to Starlink’s second-generation satellites, T-Mobile would reserve a portion of its 5G spectrum for their use. Starlink will then enable T-Mobile phones to connect to the satellite network, giving the mobile service provider “nearly complete coverage” of the United States.
Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, tweeted during the event last August that “Starlink V2” would debut this year on a limited number of smartphones and in Tesla automobiles. In a news release at the time, Musk stated, “The important thing about this is that it means there are no dead zones for your cell phone anywhere in the world.” “We’re so thrilled to work with T-Mobile on this.” In a panel discussion in March at the Satellite Conference and Exhibition 2023, SpaceX Vice President of Starlink Enterprise Sales Jonathan Hofeller amended the timetable, stating that testing, rather than commercial operation, will start in 2023.
The 4,265 satellite constellation that is now in place cannot support the new cellular service, so over the next three years, Starlink will have to launch a whole new batch of microsatellites equipped with the required eNodeB modem. The additional voice and data features will be made available as more satellites are launched.
Direct-to-Cell’s satellite messaging service will face direct competition from Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite feature in iOS 14 and Qualcomm’s rival Snapdragon Satellite, which uses the Iridium constellation to send texts to Android phones from orbit. Lynk Global CEO Charles Miller stated during the March event that the competition is anticipated to be fierce in this developing industry and suggested that satellite cell service may end up being the “biggest category in satellite.”
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