On Thursday, SpaceX’s Elon Musk and T-Mobile President and CEO Mike Sievert announced a plan whereby the Starlink satellite network will start beaming service straight to smartphones next year.
The project, called Coverage Above and Beyond, aims to provide smartphone connectivity to T-Mobile customers pretty much anywhere.
It was announced during a webcast event at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in South Texas. “I think this is really a massive game changer,” Musk said. “In a nutshell, it’s no more dead zones.”
Starlink Satellites linking with T-Mobile will abolish “dead zones”
The current landscape features plenty of dead zones—remote regions far from cell towers where smartphone users can’t get a signal.
There are about 500,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) in the United States that aren’t covered by any cellular network, Sievert said.
Coverage Above and Beyond intends to solve that problem by harnessing Starlink, the broadband megaconstellation that SpaceX is building in low Earth orbit.
The company has already launched more than three thousand Starlink spacecrafts to date, but none of the currently operational satellites are up to the newly announced job; Coverage Above and Beyond will require Starlink Version 2, which is expected to debut next year.
Version 2 craft will be twenty-three feet (seven meters) long and tip the scales at 1.25 tons (1,130 kilograms), compared to about 660 pounds (300 kg) for current Starlink satellites.
That’s so big that SpaceX will need to launch them on Starship, its giant, next-generation transportation system rather than its workhorse Falcon 9.
Providing Coverage Above and Beyond is a tough task
However, providing Coverage Above and Beyond is a tough task that SpaceX will need to juice Version 2 craft even more, outfitting each one with a special antenna about 16.5 feet (5 m) on a side, Musk said.
“They’re the most advanced phased-array antennas in the world, we think,” Musk said.
“The antennas have to be extremely advanced, because they’ve got to pick up a very quiet signal from your cellphone,” he added.
“And you can imagine, that signal’s gotta travel 500 miles [800 km] and then be caught by a satellite that’s traveling 17,000 miles [27,350 km] an hour,” Musk added. “And the satellite’s got to compensate for the Doppler effect of moving so fast. So this is really quite a difficult technical challenge. But we have it working in the lab, and we’re confident this will work in the field.”
If Coverage Above and Beyond works out, T-Mobile customers will be able to access Starlink connectivity with their current phones via T-Mobile’s existing spectrum; they won’t need to buy any special new gear, Sievert said.