SpaceX’s Starlink, the satellite internet provider, is set to launch its highly anticipated satellite cellular service, Direct-to-Cell, in 2024. The service will initially focus on SMS messaging capabilities, with plans to expand to calling and browsing functionalities. By utilizing the LTE standard, Direct-to-Cell will also enable connectivity with Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Starlink has partnered with T-Mobile for this project, which was first announced in August 2023. Through this collaboration, T-Mobile will allocate a portion of its 5G spectrum for Starlink’s second-generation satellites. In return, T-Mobile phones will be able to access the satellite network, providing the cell service provider with extensive coverage across the United States.
CEO Elon Musk has expressed his excitement about the partnership, highlighting that it would eliminate cellular dead zones worldwide. This collaboration will extend coverage for both mobile phones and Tesla vehicles. Initially, the plan was to launch Starlink’s second-generation service, known as “Starlink V2,” in 2024. However, during a panel discussion in March 2023, SpaceX’s Vice President of Starlink enterprise sales, Jonathan Hofeller, revised the timeline, stating that testing would begin in 2023.
To support the Direct-to-Cell service, Starlink will need to launch a new fleet of microsats equipped with the necessary eNodeB modems. This will allow for compatibility with the upcoming cellular service. As more satellites are deployed, additional voice and data features will become available to users.
Starlink’s Direct-to-Cell will face competition from other players in the market. Apple has recently introduced its Emergency SOS via Satellite feature in iOS 14, while Qualcomm offers Snapdragon Satellite, which uses the Iridium constellation to send texts to Android phones from orbit. The emergence of satellite cellular services is anticipated to create a highly competitive market, with the potential to become one of the largest categories in the satellite industry.
Overall, the launch of Starlink’s Direct-to-Cell service in 2024 is set to revolutionize cellular connectivity, providing ubiquitous access for users across various geographical areas.