T-Mobile is linking up with SpaceX to use its Starlink satellites to dramatically boost the carrier’s cell phone coverage to pretty much all parts of the U.S., bringing connectivity to isolated areas that up to now have been out of reach of providers.
The service will launch next year, starting with texts, MMS, and select messaging apps. Current mobile phones will be able to use T-Mobile’s new service; in other words, no new technology will be required to make it work.
Announcing the news at a special event (video below) at SpaceX’s Starbase site in Boca Chica, Texas, on Thursday night, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk outlined the plan to expand the carrier’s cell phone coverage using Starlink satellites, with Sievert claiming it will mark “the end of mobile dead zones.”
The T-Mobile boss said subscribers can expect the new service to be available “almost anywhere a customer can see the sky.” Coverage will be available across the continental U.S., Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico, and territorial waters. Musk and Sievert also said the service could one day expand globally through collaboration with carriers around the world.
T-Mobile’s new initiative, called “Coverage Above and Beyond,” will utilize SpaceX’s growing constellation of near-Earth Starlink satellites — specifically the more advanced V2 satellites launching next year — which will provide the all-important connectivity. Sievert said T-Mobile would be able to hook up to a new network, beamed down by Starlink’s satellites, using T-Mobile’s midband spectrum nationwide, describing it as a “true satellite-to-cellular service.”
Musk said that while the service wouldn’t have the kind of bandwidth that a Starlink terminal has, the signal will be strong enough for texting and sending images, adding that “if there aren’t too many people in the cell zone, you can even potentially have a little bit of video.”
The SpaceX chief praised the upcoming service as a step toward eliminating “tragedies that happened where people got lost … and if only they could’ve called for help they’d [have been] OK.”
Regarding cost, it appears that nothing is set in stone yet. Sievert said that he wants to make the service free for customers of its most popular plans. However, he added that subscribers to its low-cost plans may be required to pay a monthly fee, though said it would be cheaper than what satellite services currently charge.
While satellite phones currently provide the most efficient connectivity option for those on the move in remote areas, T-Mobile’s offering will give extra confidence to those heading into isolated areas without such devices, secure in the knowledge that if something goes wrong they’ll be able to call for help. And for those who simply want to check their texts while miles from anywhere, well, the service will work for them, too.
[This article was updated to provide more information about potential pricing.]
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