T-Mobile, SpaceX unveil plans to ‘end dead zones’ and ‘save lives’ with satellite-direct-to-phone tech

T-Mobile yesterday introduced plans to leverage SpaceX low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites ship a lower-bandwidth service to current mobile units that’s designed to eradicate most out of doors protection gaps and present a redundant path to ship calls when terrestrial networks are incapacitated by a pure catastrophe.
“This partnership has a imaginative and prescient that’s the finish of cell dead zones,” T-Mobile CEO and President Mike Sievert mentioned throughout an occasion in regards to the SpaceX collaboration. When the imaginative and prescient is absolutely realized, “when you’ve got a transparent view of the sky, you’re related in your cell phone.”
SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk echoed this sentiment.
“Even if all of the cell towers have been taken out, your cellphone would nonetheless work,” Musk mentioned in the course of the occasion.
This functionality has important security implications, significantly for people who could also be in an emergency state of affairs however immediately will not be ready to name for assist, as a result of they’re outdoors the protection footprint of terrestrial mobile networks.
“We’ve all examine individuals who have been climbing or acquired misplaced and maybe died of thirst or publicity or somebody who acquired caught in a blizzard and froze to demise,” Musk mentioned in the course of the occasion. “You may conceivably get stranded on a desert island.
“But now, you may name for assist. The factor that I believe is basically profound about what we’re asserting immediately is that it’ll save lives. We will not examine these tragedies the place folks acquired misplaced, and if solely they might’ve known as for assist, they might be OK. So, what I believe what we’re doing right here is profound. It’s going to vastly enhance folks’s comfort, and it’s going to save lives. It’s unimaginable.”
Musk emphasised that the brand new functionality is designed to work with current mobile units, as a result of the SpaceX LEO satellites—the Starlink second-generation satellites—would emulate conventional cell towers, however would accomplish that from area.
“Certainly when you’re strolling outdoors otherwise you pull your cellular phone out, it can work nice,” Musk mentioned. “But we expect that even [if the device] is in your pocket or in your automobile, it can work effectively.”
This satellite-direct-to-cell-phone expertise shouldn’t be thought-about as a substitute for terrestrial networks, as a result of a satellite tv for pc cell—a a lot bigger protection space than the footprint of a terrestrial cell—is anticipated to ship between 2 Mbps to 4 Mbps in throughput that might be shared with all customers within the satellite tv for pc cell, in accordance to Musk.
“This gained’t have the type of bandwidth {that a} Starlink terminal would have, however it can allow texting, and it can allow pictures [to be transmitted],” he mentioned. “And if there aren’t too many individuals within the [satellite] cell zone, you could possibly doubtlessly have slightly little bit of video.
“The vital factor about that is that it implies that there aren’t any dead zones wherever on this planet to your cellular phone. We’re extremely excited to do that with T-Mobile.”
Sievert mentioned this satellite-to-phone connectivity could be delivered over the service’s nationwide PCS spectrum.
These airwaves within the 1.9 GHz band are used generally in mobile system, however they’re much increased than the sub-1 GHz frequencies being focused initially by firms like Lynk Global and AST HouseMobile, two of the pioneer gamers within the satellite-direct-to-phone area.
Even with the less-favorable signal-propagation traits of the T-Mobile spectrum, SpaceX engineers “have it working within the lab,” in accordance to Musk. However, the system works solely with a brand new era of Starlink satellites which can be a lot bigger—25 sq. meters, with some studies saying they are going to be greater than 4 occasions heavier—than current Starlink satellites.
“To make this work, you could have to very massive ears—very massive, highly effective antennas on the satellite tv for pc,” Musk mentioned.
Sievert famous that yesterday’s occasion was to announce the SpaceX collaboration, not launch a product. However, T-Mobile hopes to start beta exams of the brand new satellite tv for pc service by the tip of subsequent yr, and preliminary discussions have contemplated providing the satellite tv for pc protection free of charge inside higher-tier charge plans and as an adjunct providing to lower-cost charge plans, he mentioned.
T-Mobile’s announcement with SpaceX represents a high-profile step for the notion that LEO satellites may act as mobile towers to present some degree of connectivity to most out of doors areas.
Lynk Global and AST HouseMobile have made appreciable progress on this area—even asserting relationships with quite a few business wi-fi carriers—however a notable quantity of skepticism within the expertise has remained in some elements of the trade about its viability of such choices.
At the center of most skeptics’ arguments have been questions on how a typical cellular phone transmitting at 0.200 watts may have its sign heard by a LEO satellite tv for pc that’s greater than 300 miles above the floor of the earth. However, Lynk and AST HouseMobile have performed area take a look at that point out that such connectivity is feasible. The proven fact that T-Mobile and SpaceX are making such a high-profile announcement about their satellite-to-phone plans on spectrum that has a lot worse sign propagation would appear to reinforce the concept that sub-1 GHz connection to a LEO satellite tv for pc might be pretty sturdy.
A notion provided privately by a number of trade sources in the course of the latest APCO 2022 occasion is that the hyperlink price range between a LEO satellite tv for pc and a tool working on the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority might be significantly robust, as a result of Band 14 uniquely permits high-power person tools (HPUE) units to transmit at 1.25 watts—greater than six occasions the facility of regular cellular phone. AT&T plans to conduct exams with AST HouseMobile on Band 14 spectrum, however it isn’t clear whether or not HPUE-driven options could be utilized in these satellite-direct-to-phone exams.
Public-safety officers typically have declined to say a lot publicly about satellite-direct-to-phone expertise till they see it function efficiently in real-world settings. However, if the expertise is confirmed to work, most agree that it may have a big affect on public-safety operations, because it ought to largely reply key questions on resiliency and out of doors protection within the face of widescale pure disasters.
In significantly, one of many largest issues that public security and different critical-infrastructure entities have with push-to-talk-over-cellular applied sciences is the truth that it doesn’t help long-range communications between units that lack a terrestrial-network connection, largely due to the restricted energy of broadband handsets. But an efficient satellite-direct-to-phone service theoretically ought to present a dependable answer with even higher vary than land-mobile-radio (LMR) expertise, a minimum of in out of doors settings.


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