Musk’s SpaceX and T-Mobile plan to connect cell phones to satellites, increase cellular coverage

Aug 25 (Reuters) – U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc ( TMUS.O ) will use Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to provide mobile users with network access in parts of the United States, the companies announced on Thursday, outlining plans to connect users’ mobile phones directly to satellites in orbit.

The new plans, which will co-exist with T-mobile’s existing cellular services, will cut out the need for cell towers and provide services to send texts and pictures where cellular coverage currently does not exist, key for emergencies in remote areas, Musk told a flashy event on Thursday at the company’s rocket facility in South Texas.

Starlink’s satellites will use T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum to create a new network. Most of the phones used by the company’s customers will be compatible with the new service, which will start with text services in a beta phase from the end of next year.

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SpaceX has launched nearly 3,000 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit since 2019, outpacing rivals OneWeb and Inc’s ( AMZN.O ) Project Kuiper.

SpaceX’s next-generation Starlink satellites, the first of which is planned to launch on SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket when it is fully developed, will have larger antennas that will allow connection directly to cell phones on the T-cell network, Musk said.

“We design special antennas … They are actually very large antennas that are extremely advanced,” he said. “The important thing is that you don’t need to get a new phone. The phone you currently have will work.”

Meanwhile, U.S. telecom firms are racing to build out the midband portion of their 5G networks to catch up with T-Mobile, which got a thick 2.5GHz midband spectrum thanks to an acquisition of rival Sprint.

Mid-band or C-Band has proven to be perfect for 5G, as it provides a good balance between capacity and coverage.

The carrier said it aims to pursue voice and data coverage after the beta phase for text services.

Satellite communications firm AST SpaceMobile Inc (ASTS.O) is also building a global mobile broadband network in space that will operate with mobile devices without the need for additional hardware.

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Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington, Akash Sriram and Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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