Elon Musk promises to fix cell phones ‘not spots’ with Starlink satellites

Elon Musk has pledged to eradicate cellphones “not blips” with his Starlink satellite network, promising to allow people to text in areas of weak or no signal.

The billionaire claimed cell phones will soon be able to connect to his Starlink network, replicating the technology usually reversed for bulky satellite phones.

In a deal with US mobile network T-Mobile, Starlink said it would launch a new fleet of satellites capable of delivering mobile signals to remote areas without terrestrial base stations. Mr Musk’s company will give smartphone users the ability to text from mobile ‘non-spots’ – an area with no or low internet – by connecting to one of thousands of orbiting satellites low land.

Although satellite phones already exist, these specialized handsets are usually bulky and cost thousands of pounds.

Mr Musk said Starlink’s service would allow ordinary mobile phones to connect to the signals. Mr Musk said the service would launch next year and “transmit directly to mobile phones, eliminating dead zones around the world”.

Its deal with T-Mobile will initially aim to eliminate remote black spots in the United States. The signal will be extremely limited, between two and four megabits per second, and only reliable for sending or receiving SMS. Mr Musk said he would eventually aim to include voice calls and internet connectivity.

Mr Musk said: “We need to do more than just reprogram the satellites. We are building a special antenna, a very large antenna, which is extremely advanced. They must be able to pick up a very quiet signal from your cell phone, traveling 500 miles to be picked up by a satellite traveling at 17,000 miles per hour.

Analysts said the project faced a number of technical and legal hurdles.

The current radio spectrum used by Starlink satellites is not used for communication with mobile phones. Starlink, part of Mr. Musk’s SpaceX rocket business, will have to repurpose its network to communicate using midband mobile frequencies owned by T-Mobile.

Gartner analyst Bill Ray said “the technology is pretty much proven on paper…but there are significant hurdles.” Starlink is currently restricted from deploying the new wave of thousands of satellites needed to provide mobile connections.

It also does not have permission to use different frequencies for mobile signals, and its efforts to expand its spectrum rights have faced opposition from rivals worried about interference.

Launching the new Starlink satellites will also require the use of SpaceX’s larger and heavier Starship rockets. These are still under construction and have not yet successfully launched.

The agreement with T-Mobile covers the United States, but Starlink will have to enter into other agreements with carriers around the world to expand its international coverage.

Separately, British satellite company Inmarsat said its revenue rose 5% in the three months to June, to $363 million. Inmarsat, which provides internet connectivity to planes and via satellite phones, said aviation revenue rose 48% as global travel rebounded.

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