SpaceX may have found another way to put all those telescope blocking satellites it has littering night skies to some good use. Starting next year, T-Mobile phones will connect with SpaceX’s Starlink service to bring satellite internet to its devices in an effort to bring about, “the end of mobile dead zones.” If it works, the companies believe the new partnership could help bring internet connections to even the most remote areas in the States, especially those currently underserved by cell providers and fixed broadband companies. Low-budget users most in need of such a service, however, may have to dig deep to pay for the new service.
T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced the new plan, boringly named Coverage Above and Beyond, during a live event at Space X’s Texas Starbase on Thursday. The satellite coverage, which T-Mobile says will work with existing devices by using a phone’s existing radio, will start rolling out first with text messaging and select messaging apps for beta users next year. After that, the companies said they plan to use satellite connectivity to provide voice messaging and data support as well.
In a tweet following the announcement, Musk said connectivity on the service will hover around 2 to 4 Megabits per second per cell zone. In other worlds, don’t expect blazing fast speeds.
“The important thing about this is that it means there are no dead zones anywhere in the world for your cell phone,” Musk said in a statement “We’re incredibly excited to do this with T-Mobile.”
T-Mobile said the two companies will create an entirely new network broadcast from Starlink’s constellation of satellites. In theory, that coverage should extend to the entire continental U.S. Puerto Rico, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, and territorial waters. T-Mobile claims the service will connect, “the vast majority of smartphones,” already on its network.
It’s still unclear exactly what T-Mobile customers will need to do to access the upcoming satellite internet coverage, though. Speaking at the event, Sievert said he expects his company will include the new plan at no additional costs on the company’s “most popular plans.” Lower cost plans, however, may have to cough up some extra dough.
“There, our aspiration is to charge a monthly service fee that will be far less than the monthly service fees served by today’s satellite connectivity services,” Sievert said. “But for our most popular plans at T-Mobile, our vision is to just go ahead and include it for free.”
T-Mobile did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
SpaceX has consistently expanded Starlink’s coverage area in recent years thanks in part to the unyielding pace with which it hurls its rockets into space. To put that in context, the company currently has over 2,500 Starlink satellites hovering around in Low-Earth orbit. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 42,000 CEO Elon Musk says he wants to plop up over the next few decades, according to Business Insider.
Those new satellites are apparently making some difference. Late last year, Musk said the service was on-track to provide continuous global coverage by the end of the year. Speeds are up, too. Recent speed testing conducted by Ookla determined Starlink cracked above 100 Mbps download speeds, bring it close to speeds provided by fixed broadband providers.
That mix of expanded coverage areas and actually viable speeds has drawn the attention of commercial partners like Hawaiian Airlines, which earlier this year announced it would partner with Starlink to provide free Wifi for its passengers. T-Mobile’s deal eclipses Starlink’s former partnerships, though, and potentially provides an on ramp for SpaceX to introduce its product to a far wider U.S. audience.