SpaceX plans to enable direct-to-cell capabilities for its satellite internet provider, Starlink, starting with texting support next year. The company’s website also said voice and data will roll out in 2025 along with IOT.
Starlink’s direct-to-cell will work with existing LTE phones “wherever you can see the sky” without extra hardware, software or special apps.
“Starlink satellites with Direct to Cell capability have an advanced eNodeB modem onboard that acts like a cellphone tower in space, allowing network integration similar to a standard roaming partner,” the provider’s website said.
The direct-to-cell satellites with hitch a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and then Starship.
The upcoming additions will further grow Starlink’s goal of global connectivity. The ability to connect an average smartphone to a low-earth orbit satellite would eliminate the notion of dead zones by providing reliable, quality connectivity in remote areas, perhaps for the first time.
This isn’t the first instance of Starlink working on connecting regular cellphones to its satellites. Earlier this month, SpaceX said it will test device-to-device, D2D, service over T-Mobile’s 1910-1915 MHz and 1990-1995 MHz bands, or the PCS G Block of radio airwaves. The company also asked the Federal Communications Commission for 60 days of “Special Temporary Authority” to launch and test the company’s Gen2 satellites’ ability to connect a regular cellphone call.
The new timeline could also draw in more potential Starlink customers, especially after the provider removed the waitlist for its service last week. Previously access to its service was restricted as it slowly expanded capacity. The company added about one million customers in the last nine months and has a total of more than 2 million customers. Starlink originally had a goal of 20 million users by 2022.
AT&T had previously already completed a satellite call over 5G. Last month, AST SpaceMobile used a Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone in a wireless dead zone in Maui, Hawaii, to call a Vodafone engineer in Madrid, Spain. Between AT&T’s 5G spectrum, Nokia’s network core and AST SpaceMobile’s low Earth orbit satellite, BlueWalker 3, the cell signal reached its destination.
When it comes to providing fast, reliable connectivity, competition is fierce and interest in satellite connectivity is growing. T-Mobile and Space X’s Starlink announced a 5G partnership in August. Starlink has over 5,000 internet satellites in orbit with more planned to launch in the near future. Amazon plans to launch a low-Earth orbit satellite constellation, currently codenamed Project Kuiper, and Vodafone wants to use Project Kuiper’s high-bandwidth, low-latency network to improve connectivity services in Africa and Europe, two areas where the company has high concentrations of customers.