T-Mobile’s planned satellite-to-cellphone service came a step closer now that SpaceX Starlink has begun launching satellites that will support the service. The first launch came last night, and field testing is expected to begin soon.
A launch date for the service has not yet been announced.
When available, the service will enable T-Mobile customers to have cellphone connectivity in areas where traditional service is not available, and may never be, because of land use restrictions or difficult terrain.
T-Mobile and SpaceX announced plans for the satellite-to-cellphone service in August of 2022. Implementing those plans is taking longer than expected, as the companies said at that time that they expected to begin supporting initial communications, supporting text only, in 2023. A launch date for the service has not yet been set.
According to a press release from SpaceX and T-Mobile, the service will support voice and data coverage in “the coming years.”
The partners also noted in today’s release that five global wireless providers plan to offer satellite-to-cellphone service supported by SpaceX and T-Mobile. Those agreements will include reciprocal roaming.
The five global providers are KDDI (Japan), Optus (Australia), One NZ (New Zealand), Rogers (Canada) and an unnamed provider. More agreements are expected to be forthcoming.
Most T-Mobile phones will support the satellite-to-cellphone offering when it is available, according to T-Mobile. The service will be included at no extra charge on most service plans, the company said.
SpaceX is still launching satellites to support its primary offering – providing internet connectivity to customers in remote locations. The decision to initially offer only text messaging results from SpaceX’s currently limited coverage.
As SpaceX CEO Elon Musk explained when the SpaceX/T-Mobile deal was announced, the text messaging service initially may experience delays if the cellphone does not have direct line-of-sight to a satellite at the time the message is sent. Those delays would not be acceptable for voice or internet service.
T-Mobile and SpaceX aren’t the only companies partnering up on satellite-to-cellphone service. AT&T has a similar deal with AST Space Mobile, and those companies are further along on their implementation timeline.