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T‑Mobile and SpaceX working on messaging-from-space plan

T-Mobile SpaceX.jpg

Deutsche Telekom’s T‑Mobile US is to use SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network to expand coverage across rural parts of the US – and SpaceX wants to attract other mobile operators around the world.

T‑Mobile US, which is 64.78% owned by Deutsche Telekom, says that, with Starlink’s help, it will be able to provide what it called “near complete coverage” in most places in the US – even in remote locations previously unreachable by traditional mobile signals.

Mike Sievert (pictured, left), CEO and president of T‑Mobile US, said: “More than just a ground-breaking alliance, this represents two industry-shaking innovators challenging the old ways of doing things to create something entirely new that will further connect customers and scare competitors.”

The company claimed that “the vast majority of smartphones already on T‑Mobile’s network will be compatible with the new service using the device’s existing radio”. It added: “No extra equipment to buy. It just works.”

The announcement appears to challenge moves last month by Nasdaq-listed AST SpaceMobile, which is working with working with companies such as Globe Telecom, Rakuten and Vodafone as well as Nokia to deliver 5G from low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. AST SpaceMobile is testing its experimental BlueWalker 3 satellite in California prior to a planned launch from Cape Canaveral in September.

In addition, Swedish equipment vendor Ericsson, French aerospace company Thales and US chip specialist Qualcomm said last month that they are working on 5G connectivity via LEO satellites.

However, T‑Mobile US makes it clear that the service it offers customers will be limited at first to text messaging, including SMS, MMS and unspecified “participating messaging apps”. It teased: “Afterwards, the companies plan to pursue the addition of voice and data coverage.”

SpaceX boss Elon Musk (pictured, right), who calls himself chief engineer of the company, said: “The important thing about this is that it means there are no dead zones anywhere in the world for your cell phone. We’re incredibly excited to do this with T‑Mobile.”

To provide this service, the companies will create a new network, broadcast from Starlink’s satellites using T‑Mobile’s mid-band spectrum across the US. The companies claimed: “This true satellite-to-cellular service will provide nearly complete coverage almost anywhere a customer can see the sky.”

T‑Mobile US plans a beta trial by the end of 2023 “after SpaceX’s planned satellite launches”, followed by “text coverage practically everywhere in the continental US, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, Puerto Rico and territorial waters”.

Musk and Sievert issued what they called “an open invitation to the world’s carriers to collaborate for truly global connectivity”. T‑Mobile said it committed to offer reciprocal roaming to those providers working with them to enable this vision.

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