SpaceX has launched the first six Starlink satellites equipped with “Direct to Cell” capabilities, functioning as “cellphone towers in space” to provide cellular transmissions for T-Mobile and other carriers. The enhanced Starlink satellites feature an advanced modem that acts as a cellphone tower in space, eliminating dead zones and enabling global access to texting, calling, and browsing.

Several international carriers, including Rogers in Canada, KDDI in Japan, Optus in Australia, One NZ in New Zealand, Salt in Switzerland, and Entel in Chile and Peru, have also partnered with Starlink for direct-to-cell service.

While SpaceX CEO Elon Musk highlighted the capability for mobile phone connectivity anywhere on Earth, he acknowledged a significant bandwidth limit, supporting approximately 7Mb per beam. The service’s primary focus is locations with no cellular connectivity rather than direct competition with existing terrestrial cellular networks.

Starlink’s direct-to-cell service is expected to provide text messaging in 2024, with voice and data services slated for 2025. Notably, the low Earth orbit satellites will be compatible with standard LTE phones, eliminating the need for specialized satellite devices. SpaceX’s direct-to-cell satellites are also set to connect with Internet of Things (IoT) devices by 2025.

T-Mobile plans to commence field testing of Starlink satellites soon, aiming to address connectivity gaps in areas with challenging terrain, land-use restrictions, or vast stretches of ocean. The partnership between SpaceX and T-Mobile was announced in August 2022, with initial beta service anticipated by the end of 2023. However, the testing has been postponed to 2024, starting with text messaging, followed by voice and data coverage in subsequent years.

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