In August, SpaceX announced a partnership with T-Mobile to provide satellite-to-cellular services with the Starlink satellite constellation. This will be achieved with additional hardware and large antennas that will be installed on some of the Gen2 satellites (also known as Starlink V2.0). "We’ve designed our system so that no modifications are required to the cell phone everyone has in their pocket today, and no new firmware, software updates, or apps are needed," said SpaceX.
On December 1st, SpaceX received authorization from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch up to 7,500 next-generation Starlink satellites to orbit. “Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next-generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide, including those living and working in areas traditionally unserved or underserved by terrestrial systems,” wrote FCC officials. “Our action also will enable worldwide satellite broadband service, helping to close the digital divide on a global scale,” the FCC’s decision order authorization document states.
This week, on December 6, SpaceX filed a new request with the FCC to add T-Mobile hardware to 2,016 of the Gen2 Starlink satellites to beam service directly to smartphones. The total number of those satellites that would operate in the United States simultaneously would be between 80 to 100, according to the filing. “The service will be able to provide voice, messaging, and basic web browsing at theoretical peak speeds of up to either 3.0Mbps or 7.2Mbps peak upload … and up to either 4.4Mbps or 18.3Mbps on the downlink,” SpaceX wrote to the FCC. "Important to note that this is *total* bandwidth within a cell, so would be divided among all phones," said SpaceX founder Elon Musk via Twitter, "Starlink will be great for text messages, voice calls & low res[olution] pics. If only a dozen phones are active, which is true in remote regions, then video will work," he said. "But the really mind-blowing thing is that this means your phone will work anywhere on Earth, unless blocked by local government!"
Earlier this year, TESMANIAN journalist Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo @JaneidyEve had the opportunity to ask Musk a question during the SpaceX T-Mobile partnership announcement: "How many Starlink users can a single Starlink satellite support?" she asked. –"For this application, we are talking about roughly 2 to 4 Megabits (Mbits) per cell zone, so, it depends on how many people are on that cell zone," Musk said, "You divide that bandwidth by the number of people in cell zone who are using it simultaneously. Since a voice call is about 2 kilobits, 1 to 2,000 simultaneous voice calls or hundreds of thousands text messages could be sent depending on the length of the text message," he explained (video linked below).
I write stories for @Tesmanian_com & had the opportunity to ask @elonmusk a question during the @SpaceX / @TMobile partnership announcement.— Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo (@JaneidyEve) August 26, 2022
~"How many Starlink users can a single Starlink satellite support?" pic.twitter.com/VMoCtmRScs
“Operating essentially as cellular base stations in space, direct-to-cellular payloads will give T-Mobile a means of reaching mobile devices provisioned for its own and partner networks when terrestrial base stations are out of reach or unavailable," SpaceX wrote to the FCC in the application. The satellite-to-cellular feature will benefit T-Mobile customers who live in rural communities and also those who enjoy traveling to remote places, like hikers and nature explorers. “For all consumers, the service will provide peace-of-mind in situations where real-time communications are critical, even lifesaving. Hikers experiencing an emergency in a remote area would be able to call or text for help using the service," wrote SpaceX. –"This capability will save many lives," said Musk, in reference to adventurers who could potentially face challenges in an area where people often loose cell signal. If approved, the satellite-to-cellular services could be operational in the U.S. by 2024.
But the really mind-blowing thing is that this means your phone will work anywhere on Earth, unless blocked by local government!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 8, 2022
Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.