In an unexpected and surprise move, T-Mobile has announced a partnership with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide cellular coverage via Starlink satellites.
During a live broadcast on August 25th, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk shared plans for “Coverage Above and Beyond”. The idea is that Starlink satellites that are launching next year will include the ability to broadcast 5G cellular coverage using T-Mobile’s mid-band PCS spectrum.
The signal will theoretically cover the entire planet, though only areas where T-Mobile owns the licensing rights to those frequencies will be able to use it. Existing devices compatible with T-Mobile’s network will have the ability to connect to that signal with no additional hardware.
The initial launch will allow phones to send SMS, MMS, and select messaging apps to work over the satellite-based connection. The Starlink connection will only apply in areas where T-Mobile doesn’t already have native coverage.
T-Mobile also shared an open offer to global cell companies to have reciprocal roaming coverage via Starlink. In exchange for access to the satellite-based network, those companies would offer native coverage to T-Mobile subscribers in those countries.
The new service is expected to launch in beta by the end of 2023, and plans are to hopefully expand the service in the future to include data.
On Twitter, Elon Musk stated that the expected connection speed over the satellite connection will be approximately 2-4 Mbps “per zone”, which would be shared between all connected devices in that zone.
Sievert went on to say that T-Mobile plans to offer this extra coverage option for free on their “most popular plans”, with a paid option for other plans to add-on the coverage feature.
Clearly, T-Mobile isn’t playing around. If these plans unfold as expected, Verizon and AT&T will suddenly have a lot of catching up to do in terms of coverage.