Starlink’s Satellite Cellular Service to Debut in 2024, Primarily for SMS

Starlink’s long-anticipated satellite cellular service, Direct-to-Cell, is set to start rolling out for SMS in 2024, as indicated by a recently published promotional site from the company. This system aims to provide extensive access to text messaging, calling, and internet browsing across various land, lake, and coastal locations. Additionally, it will connect to Internet of Things (IoT) devices through the LTE standard.

Starlink has forged a partnership with T-Mobile for this project, initially unveiled at the “Coverage and Above and Beyond” event last August. The collaboration involves T-Mobile reserving a portion of its 5G spectrum for Starlink’s second-generation satellites, enabling T-Mobile phones to access the satellite network, which, in turn, provides the cell service provider with nearly complete coverage of the United States.

During the August event, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that “Starlink V2” would be launched this year, making it available on select mobile phones and Tesla vehicles. Musk highlighted the significance of this development, emphasizing that it would eliminate cellular dead zones worldwide. The initial estimate was later revised during a panel discussion in March at the Satellite Conference and Exhibition 2023, with SpaceX VP of Starlink Enterprise Sales, Jonathan Hofeller, indicating that testing (not commercial operation) would commence in 2023.

The existing constellation of 4,265 satellites is not compatible with the new cell service. Consequently, Starlink plans to launch a new series of microsatellites equipped with the necessary eNodeB modem over the next few years. With the addition of more satellites, voice and data features will become accessible.

Direct-to-Cell, functioning as a messaging-only satellite service, will face competition from Apple, which offers Emergency SOS via Satellite in iOS 14, as well as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Satellite, delivering texts to Android phones via the Iridium constellation. Fierce competition is expected in this emerging market, with Lynk Global CEO Charles Miller suggesting that satellite cell service could potentially become the “biggest category in satellite communication.

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