T-Mobile Selects Starlink to Improve Service

If have T-Mobile for your mobile phone and hate dead zones, you may be happy to learn that T-Mobile is hoping to eliminate some of these dead zones starting in 2023 with a new deal with SpaceX. SpaceX will open up its Starlink satellite constellation to provide connectivity for T-Mobile customers – even ones who live in areas where service can be ratty.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert made the announcement at a live event with mock-ups of SpaceX’s Starship in the background.

The deal will provide services for text, SMS, and MMS messaging apps. Voice and data will come later. T-Mobile plans to run a beta program in the continental United States, parts of Alaska, and Puerto Rico before rolling it out for all customers. T-Mobile and SpaceX say they would be willing to partner with other carriers to make the service global.

“The important thing about this is that it means there’s no dead zones anywhere in the world for your cellphone,” Elon Musk said on August 25.

SpaceX is equipping its Starlink Version 2 satellites with hardware that can relay signals for mobile phones. This primarily means that T-Mobile customers usually won’t have to upgrade their phones to access its signal.

Elon Musk indicated that he would like to add the ability to route emergency calls and texts from Tesla vehicles through the new Starlink capability. Tesla owners indicated that this feature would be very helpful in remote areas where they would normally lose their signals.

T-Mobile and SpaceX did not indicate that they would collaborate on providing at-home Internet service. T-Mobile did indicate that it may be willing to work with other carriers for reciprocal roaming and the “most popular plans” won’t have to add an additional fee to get the new service. T-Mobile’s lowest-cost plans may still have to pay an additional monthly fee for access to the Starlink-based service.

Although T-Mobile is the first mobile service provider to make a deal with SpaceX’s Starlink, AT&T has shown interest in a similar deal with competing satellite Internet provider OneWeb.

Yes, OneWeb did have that spat with SpaceX over an alleged close encounter between two satellites. Competitors getting into it with SpaceX and Elon Musk over Starlink is nothing unusual, especially considering that SpaceX plans to launch Starlink satellites into orbits that are among the lowest for a satellite-based Internet service. This allows for better latency. However, SpaceX said it would treat OneWeb like any other customer when it signed up to launch satellites on a SpaceX rocket in the wake of diplomatic tensions with Russia, which led to Russia nixing plenty of agreements for Roscosmos to launch European-built hardware.

SpaceX announced the Starlink Version 2 plans in August 2021. This new version will include faster laser communications, which can bypass the need for ground stations. It recently shelved a backup configuration for the Version 2 satellites as unnecessary, though it may have been a matter of learning how to choose its battles in the wake of a brief spat with Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

T-Mobile indicated that it would like to spread its coverage to more parts of the United States, including remote areas that normally don’t get much coverage. Satellites like Starlink’s constellation can make that possible in areas like mountain ranges and large national parks that would be difficult for cell phone towers to provide service for.