Starlink's Direct to Cell service planned for 2024

By Lauren Davis
Tuesday, 24 October, 2023

Starlink's Direct to Cell service planned for 2024

SpaceX’s Starlink has launched a new website to promote its planned Direct to Cell service, offering connectivity to existing LTE phones ‘wherever you can see the sky’ — no changes to hardware, firmware or special apps are required.

The service appears to be a rebrand of ‘Coverage Above and Beyond’, a joint project between SpaceX and T-Mobile that was first announced in August last year. Starlink plans to roll out Direct to Cell text services in 2024, followed by voice, data and IoT connectivity in 2025.

Starlink satellites with Direct to Cell capability have an advanced eNodeB modem onboard that acts like a cell tower in space, allowing network integration similar to a standard roaming partner. These satellites will initially be launched on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and then Starship; once in orbit the satellites will immediately connect over laser backhaul to the Starlink constellation to provide global connectivity.

As a result, Starlink satellites with Direct to Cell capabilities are set to enable ubiquitous access to texting, calling and browsing wherever you may be on land, lakes or coastal waters, providing peace of mind in remote regions and wherever customers need it most. Direct to Cell will also connect IoT devices with common LTE standards.

Cellular providers using Direct to Cell will have access to reciprocal global access in all partner nations; these include T-Mobile in the USA, Rogers in Canada, KDDI in Japan, Salt in Switzerland, One NZ in New Zealand and Optus here in Australia. The Optus partnership, which was announced back in July, will see the telco working to expand the reach of customers’ mobile connectivity to include the 60% of Australia’s land mass that currently has no mobile coverage.

“Australia’s vastness and terrain can make it difficult for any operator to provide mobile coverage everywhere it is needed — especially in remote or hard-to-reach locations,” said Optus’s Managing Director of Marketing and Revenue, Matt Williams.

“Our work with SpaceX aims to bring the coverage capabilities of satellites direct to compatible mobile handsets without the need for customers to buy additional equipment.

“This is a truly innovative model for Australia — connecting satellites to standard mobile phones — and a significant evolution beyond the services SpaceX has provided in Australia to date.”

With their powers combined, Optus and SpaceX plan to provide mobile connectivity covering 100% of Australia (excluding the Australian Radio Quiet Zone in Western Australia and remote offshore territories and islands). SMS capability is currently planned for late 2024, with voice and data to follow in late 2025.

“We share Optus’s vision to improve connectivity across Australia,” said SpaceX’s Senior Director of Satellite Engineering, Sara Spangelo. “The connectivity pairs SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation with Optus’s mobile network to transmit directly to mobile phones across the country.

“We’re excited to collaborate with Optus and offer a solution to expand coverage and help keep customers connected regardless of where they live or travel.”

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