Elon Musk's SpaceX teamed up with T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert to beam cell service via Starlink satellites to "most places in the US," including more than half a million square miles of dead zone areas that aren't covered by cellular networks.
The two companies would create a new mobile network to broadcast T-Mobile's existing mid-band spectrum via Starlink satellites to anywhere in the continental US, Hawaii, parts of Alaska, and Puerto Rico.
SpaceX and T-Mobile wrote in a press release that the new network would "provide near complete coverage in most places in the US — even in many of the most remote locations previously unreachable by traditional cell signals."
Musk tweeted that the new service, launching in 2023, will "eliminate dead zones worldwide."
Starlink V2, launching next year, will transmit direct to mobile phones, eliminating dead zones worldwide— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 26, 2022
Bloomberg explained how the new satellite-to-cellular service would work through powerful antennas attached to upgraded Starlink satellites:
The new network will be accessible thanks to large, powerful antennas attached to Starlink satellites. Musk said each antenna would measure some 25 square meters (269 square feet) and be "extremely advanced because they've got to pick up a very quiet signal from your cell phone and then be caught by a satellite that's traveling 17,000 miles an hour." The T-Mobile service will run in a similar way to data roaming, where a user's mobile will scan for service and if it finds none it will connect to the satellite.
Musk, at an unveiling event at SpaceX's Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, along with T-Mobile Sievert, on Thursday evening, gave an "open invitation to carriers around the world" about adding the new service.
Bloomberg noted that most smartphones are already equipped with technology to beam a signal to space so that additional equipment won't be required.
But there are limitations, and the main issue is bandwidth, as Bloomberg pointed out:
The main issue is bandwidth, which will at first limit the service to text messaging. The coverage area will be divided into large cell zones, with each zone's connectivity limited to around 2-4 MBs. Musk said that would allow for some 1,000-2,000 voice calls per cell, or millions of text messages, but the service would not provide a substitute for ground cell stations.
"This is really meant to provide basic coverage to areas that are currently completely dead," Musk said, adding there could initially be a delay of "half an hour, maybe worse" for messages to pass through the system.
Testing for the new satellite-to-cellular service is expected later this year after SpaceX launches the new satellites into low Earth orbit.