SpaceX Vice President of enterprise sales Jonathan Hofeller participated at the Satellite Conference and Exhibition 2023 on March 13, where he discussed the company’s Starlink broadband constellation. Hoefeller shared at the conference that SpaceX plans to test Starlink satellite-to-cellular in partnership with T-Mobile this year. “We’re going to learn a lot by doing — not necessarily by overanalyzing — and getting out there,” said Hofeller.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk and T-Mobile President & CEO Mike Sievert announced the companies partnership in August 2022 at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Texas. A TESMANIAN journalist attended the partnership announcement event during which the companies surprised the audience with their promise to deliver ‘Coverage Above and Beyond’ by equipping future Starlink V2 satellites with large antennas that will beam voice and SMS/MMS (text messages) data directly to T-Mobile customers smartphones – without the need of any additional hardware. This will enable roaming to the company’s customers which can be useful in rural and remote regions. "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.
“The Starlink satellites will be able to broadcast directly to cell phones [...],” Musk said at the 2022 event, emphasizing that this is a very “profound” deal that will revolutionize cellular communication. SpaceX is developing and manufacturing the new Starlink V2 satellites which will have powerful "big antennas" that are 5 to 6 meters across to enable the direct cellular connections. “We need to do more than reprogram the satellite; we’re making a special antenna, the most advanced phased array antennas in the world. They have to pick up a very quiet signal from your cell phone,” said Musk. “There’s quite a bit of complex hardware and software, because it is moving so fast – they’re traveling overhead at 17,000 miles per hour. Normally a cell phone tower does not travel at 17,000 miles per hour.”
“It’s a lot like putting a cellular tower in the sky, just a lot harder,” explained Sievert during the presentation last year, “Your phone doesn’t really know it’s connecting for space. It’ll think it’s connected to a cell tower, because that phone is using industry standard technology communication protocols and it has the spectrum already built in, as the vast majority of phones in circulation today do.”
In February this year, SpaceX launched a Starlink V2 ‘Mini’ version of these satellites that are likely being tested, however, it is unclear whether these ‘Mini’ second-generation satellites have hardware to support direct satellite-to-cellular service because Musk said that the service will require giant antennas, so it is likely to be a yet-to-be launched iteration. Read more: SpaceX reveals new Starlink V2 ‘Mini’ satellites designed to increase the Internet network’s capabilities
At the 2022 partnership event, TESMANIAN journalist Evelyn J. Arevalo had the opportunity to ask Musk a question: "How many Starlink users can a single Starlink satellite support?" –"For this application, we are talking about roughly 2 to 4 Megabits per cell zone, so, it depends on how many people are on that cell zone," Musk explained, "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 said (watch the video clip 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
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Featured Images 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.