T-Mobile and SpaceX have announced a new technology alliance they’re calling « Coverage and Above and Beyond » that aims to end mobile deadzones. In an event at SpaceX’s Starbase facility, the companies have revealed that they’re working on integrating a slice of T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G spectrum into the second-gen Starlink satellites launching next year. It’s like putting a cellular tower in the sky, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said during the event. He also said that they’re envisioning a future wherein if you have a clear view of the sky, you are connected on your mobile phone — even if it’s the middle of the ocean. No more getting worried that you won’t be able to get in touch with first responders or friends and family while driving or hiking in places where there’s typically no coverage.
The companies are making it so that your existing phones can connect to the service, which will enter beta as soon as late next year. It will start with messaging (SMS, MMS and select messaging apps), allowing you to send and receive messages in real time, and Sievert said the companies will keep going until the service can also offer data and voice. While the partners didn’t exactly launch a product during the event, the T-Mobile CEO promised that the service will come free with T-Mobile’s popular plans. For low-cost plans that don’t include it, the carrier may charge for the service, but for far lower prices than satellite services do.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk tweeted that connectivity will be 2 to 4 Megabits per cell zone, which isn’t a high bandwidth if shared by multiple people, but is enough for texting and calling.
On stage, Musk said the service will save lives, as it will allow people to call for help even from the most remote places. When asked how his company had to tweak Starlink satellites for the service to work, Musk said SpaceX had to design a very big, extremely advanced antenna that has the ability to pick up very quiet signals from your cellphone. The company is still currently working on it in the lab, but Musk said SpaceX is confident that it’s going to work in the field.
The company chiefs have issued an open invitation to carriers around the world to make the service available everywhere. In the US, international carriers can team up with T-Mobile so that visitors to the country will also be able to connect to Starlink satellites with their mobile devices.
Update: When asked if Tesla vehicles are also getting access to the companies’ expanded coverage on Twitter, Musk said Yes. At the moment, Tesla cars connect to AT&T’s network.
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