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SpaceX Transforming Mobile Phone Industry Next?

T-Mobile is making moves that may put them at the forefront of mobile phone service. The company wrote that “CEO and President Mike Sievert and SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk announced Coverage Above and Beyond: a breakthrough new plan to bring cell phone connectivity everywhere. Leveraging Starlink, SpaceX’s constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit, and T-Mobile’s industry-leading wireless network, the Un-carrier plans to provide near complete coverage in most places in the U.S. – even in many of the most remote locations previously unreachable by traditional cell signals.

Today, despite powerful LTE and 5G wireless networks, well over half a million square miles of the U.S. in addition to vast stretches of ocean are untouched by cell signals … from ANY provider. And as anyone who has ever encountered a mobile dead zone knows, the wireless industry has struggled to cover these areas with traditional terrestrial cellular technology, most often due to land-use restrictions (e.g. National Parks), terrain limits (e.g. mountains, deserts and other topographical realities) and America’s sheer vastness. In those areas, people are either disconnected or pay exorbitant rates to lug around a sat phone. SpaceX and T-Mobile share a vision where these uncovered areas are a relic of the past, and today, the companies are taking a first step to make that vision a reality.”

SpaceX plans to start testing its Starlink satellite-to-cell service with T-Mobile later in the year. 

“We’re going to learn a lot by doing — not necessarily by overanalyzing — and getting out there,” Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX vice president of Starlink enterprise sales, said on a panel at the Satellite 2023 conference in Washington, D.C.

CNBC noted, “The market for space-based data services directly to devices on the ground, such as for smartphones, is widely considered to have lucrative potential, with a variety of satellite companies partnering with terrestrial mobile network operators (MNOs) and device makers to fill in coverage gaps across the Earth.”

“To serve T-Mobile users, SpaceX also notes it’s merely augmenting the company’s second-generation Starlink network, which the FCC gave conditional approval to last week. ‘Importantly, the direct-to-cellular system will not consume any new orbital resources and has been designed with affordability in mind,’ the company says. SpaceX is aiming for global coverage through the augmented satellites by mid-2024. 

The resulting system is poised to rival Apple’s new Emergency SOS feature for the iPhone 14, which also leverages orbiting satellites. In the application, reported PC Magazine, SpaceX wrote: ‘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.’”

SpaceX made news last month when the company restricted the Ukraine military from using the service to deploy internet-based drones. The Washington Post wrote, “Speaking at a Federal Aviation Administration conference in Washington on Wednesday, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s chief operating officer, said the company is pleased to help Ukraine in its “fight for freedom” but that the Starlink satellite internet service was “never intended to be weaponized.”

‘Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement,” Shotwell said. “We know the military is using them for [communications], and that’s okay … but our intent was never to have them use it for offensive purposes.’

Starlink has largely kept Ukraine and its military online during the war, causing Russia to attempt to jam signals and phone services in combat zones. One Ukrainian commander previously told The Post that “fighting without Starlink service at the front line is like fighting without a gun.”

While SpaceX at points has portrayed Starlink service in Ukraine as a charitable venture, it has not, in fact, covered the entire cost. The Post reported in April that the U.S. government paid millions to SpaceX for equipment and transportation costs.”

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