TechCrunch:

SpaceX launched its first batch of Starlink satellites that will be able to connect directly to cell phones ahead of planned testing later this year.

The company launched six Starlink satellites with this capability with a batch of 15 other Starlink birds aboard a Falcon 9 rocket late last night. SpaceX obtained approval from U.S. regulators last month to test the satellites in partnership with T-Mobile. SpaceX has a number of other partnerships with native telecom companies in countries including Australia, Canada and Japan.

The approval, which was granted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, was for a 180-day period. SpaceX said the tests would eventually involve 840 satellites transmitting 4G connectivity to around 2,000 unmodified smartphones. The satellites will act as “cell phone towers in space,” according to Starlink’s website.

The website estimates that texting will become available this year, with voice and data services starting in 2025 and connection for Internet of Things devices also in 2025, though SpaceX will need to get regulatory approval before commencing commercial service.

While SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the service “will allow for mobile phone connectivity anywhere on Earth,” he added some realistic caveats: “While this is a great solution for locations with no cellular connectivity, it is not meaningfully competitive with existing terrestrial cellular networks.”

But even with these limitations, there is undoubtably a race among companies looking to take a share of the direct-to-cell market. Other players include Lynk, which has debuted services in Palau, Amazon’s Project Kuiper and AST SpaceMobile. Kuiper — which is a more general competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink constellation — announced its own partnership with Verizon in 2021, while AST’s telco partners include AT&T and Vodafone.


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MuskWire TLDR:

SpaceX has launched its first batch of Starlink satellites that are capable of directly connecting to cell phones. The company launched six satellites with this capability alongside 15 other Starlink satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX has received approval from U.S. regulators to test the satellites in partnership with T-Mobile, and it has partnerships with telecom companies in other countries as well. The tests will involve 840 satellites transmitting 4G connectivity to around 2,000 unmodified smartphones. According to Starlink’s website, the satellites will act as “cell phone towers in space.” While texting will become available this year, voice and data services and connectivity for Internet of Things devices are estimated to start in 2025. However, regulatory approval will be required before commercial service can begin. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that while the service will provide mobile phone connectivity anywhere on Earth, it is not expected to be competitive with existing terrestrial cellular networks. Other companies, such as Lynk, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and AST SpaceMobile, are also competing in the direct-to-cell market.