Elon Musk and T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert were on stage together on Thursday to make the announcement that SpaceX is collaborating with the company to entirely remove cellular dead zones. According to the firms, the next-generation Starlink satellites, which are scheduled to launch the following year, will be able to communicate directly with phones, enabling you to text, make calls, and maybe stream video even if there are no cell towers in the area. Musk also asserted that all of this could be accomplished using current-generation smartphones, negating the need for consumers to purchase any more hardware.
The carrier is making a bold claim because Verizon and AT&T don’t have anything similar. However, companies other than SpaceX and T-Mobile are also interested in using satellites to directly connect with cell phones using the available wireless spectrum. A company named Lynk Global has previously proven that its satellite “cell towers” can be used to relay text messages from conventional phones, and AST SpaceMobile has long claimed to beam broadband to phones from space. It’s simple to think that these businesses would be concerned that two industry titans would suddenly want to join a comparable game, but it turns out that’s not the case at all. They appear to be really happy.
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Who are the satellite-to-phone companies that compete with Spacex and T-Mobile?
Charles Miller, CEO of Lynk, told The Verge that his company “loves the validation and attention that this is bringing to our technology.” “We’ve been receiving numerous calls today from carriers asking for assistance.”
Lynk’s original objective is comparable to SpaceX’s; it is collaborating with a number of carriers globally to enable its customers to send messages via a satellite network it is currently constructing. Miller emphasized the technology’s significance during emergencies and natural disasters, where events like hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, or earthquakes can disrupt conventional cell networks, much like T-demonstration Mobile did. It is fortitude. It provides immediate backup for everyone on Earth. Your phones can still communicate even when the towers are down,” he said. This is going to save lives.
Despite the fact that Miller’s presentation is extremely similar to those of Sievert and Musk, he doesn’t appear especially concerned about sharing the same (pun intended) market with them. He has some confidence because Lynk was a market pioneer and claims to have become the first to transmit a text message to an unmodified cell phone from space in early 2020. “We anticipate that more major corporations will join. They still have a very long way to go. They are decades behind us, he declared. “We’ll be saying, ‘Wonderful! Inform everyone on how this technology works. People will say, “I want it,” when we begin rolling it out at the end of this year. They won’t want to hold out for years for it.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Scott Wisniewski, AST’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer. “Our CEO tweeted that he was pleased that they were concentrating on this very large market and very large demand. Additionally, it was encouraging to hear people express that the technology works for them, he added. He added that it was unlikely that a single company would control the satellite-to-phone communication business. “In our opinion, there will be a number of winners in the entire market.”
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Elon and Mike helped the world focus attention on the huge market opportunity for SpaceMobile, the only planned space-based cellular broadband network. BlueWalker 3, which has a 693 sq ft array, is scheduled for launch within weeks! 🌐📶 #5G
— Abel Avellan (@AbelAvellan) August 26, 2022
Perhaps more ambitious than what T-Mobile revealed is AST’s service. In the future, Sievert added, he expects T-Mobile will be able to send data via SpaceX’s satellites, as AST’s main objective is to run 4G and 5G networks. It is wagering that having access to broadband will be more desirable than simply being able to text and make phone calls from far-off places. “We all realize that cell phone service outages and poor coverage can happen regularly. And T-Mobile brought up that point in particular. In that sense, our solution is incredibly appealing,” Wisniewski added.
AST and Lynk have international goals, in contrast to SpaceX and T-Mobile, whose plan is mostly restricted to the US and its territories because the wireless spectrum SpaceX is using for its service is owned and maintained by other carriers and agencies internationally. AST has obtained funding from Rakuten, a Japanese mobile carrier, as well as a five-year exclusivity agreement from Vodafone, one of the biggest cell providers in the world. Miller claims that Lynk is now testing its service in 10 nations and is able to do so in dozens more.
According to AST and Lynk, everything about the announcement from T-Mobile and SpaceX is timed perfectly. While the latter intends to launch its commercial service with 14 network operators by the end of the year, the former is preparing to launch a test satellite in a few weeks (with five more planned for 2023). Right before you take a significant first step can be the best moment for customers to express a strong interest in the project you’re working on.
Great news! Our BlueWalker 3 test satellite has arrived in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Teams are now working to prepare the spacecraft for a planned launch in early to mid-September. Read more here: https://t.co/KQF9o1JaAB #ASTSpaceMobile pic.twitter.com/MawbV2rnc9
— AST SpaceMobile (@AST_SpaceMobile) August 9, 2022
HOW THE IPHONE 14 AND APPLE RUMOURS FIT INTO THIS MYSTERY
However, Tim Farrar, an analyst with the satellite and telecom consultancy and research firm Telecom, Media and Finance Associates, believes that T-timing Mobile may have something to do with the impending entry of a big rival who might provide benefits that AST, SpaceX, and Lynk do not. He stated, referring to rumours that the upcoming iPhone would be able to connect to the Globalstar satellite network for emergency purposes, “The issue is going to be what happens with Apple next week.”
According to him, if that takes place, iPhone users may obtain this capability very soon and in a version that has built-in international support. “I believe that if Apple does make an announcement next week, it will be something that is prepared to launch as soon as the phone is made available. Because if they’re associated with Globalstar, Globalstar already has 24 satellites in orbit that are available for communication, and they are licenced by the FCC in addition to many other international regulatory bodies.
The last sentence is extremely crucial. Apple only needs to complete a “simple and well-defined” process to obtain equipment authorization from the FCC, according to Farrar, and it will be ready to go. It’s more difficult for other businesses, like SpaceX, that want to communicate from space using a spectrum that cell providers have licenced. In the past, cell towers used terrestrial spectrum while satellites used satellite spectrum. But according to Farrar, satellite-to-cell technology combines the two in a way that the laws don’t actually permit at the moment. “The FCC is changing the law significantly. Additionally, they have been debating it for the past two years without really coming to a decision.
It might get much more complicated because T-rival Mobile’s carriers might try to find a way to stop SpaceX from accessing the carrier’s airwaves. Farrar predicted that there would be a lot of conflict around the use of terrestrial spectrums for satellites. “When AST sought a partnership with AT&T to test its system, interference worries were already raised. No significant wireless carrier wants its competitors to have an advantage. Therefore, it is obvious that opposition will arise to any request to deploy T-Mobile spectrum on satellites. And the FCC will have to decide that; it might not happen right now.
Miller refused to actually discuss spectrum, claiming that Lynk has “an open issue” with it. Wisniewski stated that working with carriers to obtain regulatory approval is one of AST’s strategies for addressing spectrum challenges. He added that the nature of offering service when none is now available would ease some of the difficulties. In areas where they don’t have towers, “we share the spectrum with mobile network operators on a noninterference basis.”
According to Wisniewski, AST has received regulatory authority for commercial operation in seven nations, but the FCC has only given it permission to test its satellite and provide service to the US on an experimental basis.
As for SpaceX and T-Mobile, they don’t anticipate even beginning testing their service until the end of next year. This gives the firms plenty of time to try and iron out any issues with authorities.
However, if one business succeeds in developing a phone that links to satellite networks, it may benefit all the other businesses. For instance, if Tim Cook appears on stage on September 7 and declares that the iPhone 14 can send emergency satellite communications, a lot of people who don’t use iPhones are going to get incredibly envious very quickly. This might put further pressure on the FCC to grant carriers and their satellite communications partners permission to use satellite-to-phone technology. Additionally, you should expect calls from AT&T and Verizon if T-Mobile has it. (Farrar believes that other phone manufacturers who don’t have the same influence as Apple or Samsung would find it difficult to implement a function similar to this; carriers would oppose them and insist that their phones should simply use the carrier’s satellite capabilities.)
In fact, Verizon has a satellite connectivity arrangement in place, but in a different format. It is associated with Amazon’s Kuiper initiative, which aspires to build a satellite constellation resembling that of SpaceX. Verizon’s strategy, however, is to feed distant cell towers with satellite service rather than needing to extend fibre or cable to them in order to conduct direct satellite-to-phone transmission. Sievert did mention that T-Mobile was open to the idea of working with SpaceX in a similar manner during the event on Thursday.
In response to The Verge’s request for comment regarding whether they would be changing their plans in light of T-Mobile and SpaceX’s announcement, neither Verizon nor Amazon provided a response.
Both AST and Lynk are not especially interested in engaging in that kind of competition. If your phone is already connected by satellite, you don’t need to construct these outlying cell towers, Miller added.
THE SATELLITE-TO-PHONE CAT WAS LET OUT OF THE BAG BY ELON MUSK
Right now, only one thing stands out as being absolutely certain: T-Mobile and SpaceX have let a genie out of the bottle. They made a big announcement that your phone would soon be able to link to satellites, allowing you to maintain some level of connectivity even in typically remote locations.
There are several possible outcomes from here — AST’s testing may demonstrate that, sure, it is possible to beam reasonably fast internet to phones from space, raising the bar for what consumers want above what T-Mobile and SpaceX have established. Or perhaps authorities will suddenly realise what has to be done, allowing Lynk to enter the market before T-Mobile exits beta. Additionally, there is always the chance that everyone may become mired in a confusing bureaucratic maze, allowing Apple to enter the market and use entirely different types of technologies.
Regardless of what transpires, individuals are aware that they can communicate with satellites using the phones they already carry in their pockets. And just as Miller stated, I want it now that I’ve seen it and am aware that the technology will soon be available, regardless of which satellites my phone needs to communicate with.