Texting, calling, and browsing with a direct phone connection to Musk’s satellites may soon become available after SpaceX’s Starlink launched a new website promoting Direct to Cell capabilities.
Starlink is preparing to debut a SMS texting service starting in 2024, while voice, data, and IoT services are expected to launch in 2025, according to the released timeline.
“Direct to Cell works with existing LTE phones wherever you can see the sky. No changes to hardware, firmware, or special apps are required, providing seamless access to text, voice, and data,” Starlink claims.
Starlink promises “ubiquitous access” whether you’re on “land, lakes, or coastal waters.” The company’s satellites, some of which are already falling back and might soon start killing people, will act like a cellphone tower in space.
For now, the company is advertising the new functionality to its business partners, allowing network integration similar to a standard roaming partner. Broad satellite coverage enables connectivity in remote regions where cellular coverage may not be viable.
The new capabilities might also allow Starlink to compete directly with telecommunication companies, which provide connectivity via ground-based equipment like cell towers.
Starlink has already agreed with some global cellular providers to bring nationwide coverage.
In the US, Starlink signed an agreement with T-Mobile. Here, despite powerful LTE and 5G wireless networks, “well over half a million square miles of the US, in addition to vast stretches of ocean, are untouched by cell signals,” the companies announced on August 25th.
With the new technology, T-Mobile expects to give customers text coverage practically everywhere in the continental US, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico, and territorial waters.
In April, Rogers Communications in Canada announced that satellite-to-phone coverage will work with all 5G and 4G smartphones once commercially available.
An emergency services upgrade via texting is mentioned as one of the use cases. A similar satellite service, dubbed Emergency SOS, is already offered for iPhone users.
Other partners include KDDI in Japan, Optus (Australia), One NZ (New Zealand), and Salt (Switzerland).
“Direct to Cell satellites will initially be launched on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and then Starship. On orbit, the satellites will immediately connect over laser backhaul to the Starlink constellation to provide global connectivity,” Starlink promises.
There are no further details on pricing or whether Starlink plans to introduce its own direct-to-consumer services.
There are some obstacles ahead, as SpaceX has to get clearance from the Federal Communications Commission for the use of radio bands, with some companies opposing the move. AT&T filed a petition with the FCC, concerned that Starlink may disrupt cell phones. It claims that Starlinks’ application “falls far short of the waiver standard and raises questions that require further technical analysis and clarification.”
“The applications should not be granted unless and until SpaceX and T-Mobile are able to make the required showings,” AT&T’s petition reads.
Omnispace also expressed concerns “that there will be harmful interference from the aggregate power of SpaceX satellites in view of Omnispace’s receive antenna system.”
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