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T-Mobile US and SpaceX Starlink Are Bringing Satellite Phones Back

T Mobile and SpaceX to bring satellite phones back

T-Mobile and SpaceX are bringing back satellite phones… sorta. The telecom and space giants have partnered on an initiative to deliver low-bandwidth service to dead zones across the U.S.

The new mid-band coverage will bring protected land, national parks, large swaths of ocean, rural areas without reliable coverage, and any place with “a clear view of the sky” into the cellular era. It will also provide a form of insurance in emergency situations, namely for hurricanes or other disasters which are notorious for taking out cellular operations. 

So-called “Zero-G coverage” means that T-Mobile users in the most remote parts of the U.S. will be able to make calls and send texts. T-Mobile US hopes to scale the satellite coverage beyond the U.S., calling on foreign network operators to partner with SpaceX to offer reciprocal roaming.

The beta rollout of the ambitious product is expected to take place by the end of 2023, but will require Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build and launch a second-generation version of their Starlink satellites. It is expected that these satellites will need to be launched on SpaceX’s new and unproven Starship spacecraft, which has been doing high-altitude flight tests in South Texas for the last two years.

Later this year, Starship Super Heavy is expected to have its first test flight – and its success would mean big things for the T-Mobile and SpaceX partnership. Once Starship launches, the thousands of Starlink satellites required to offer the promised “2 to 4 megabits of data” per cell area would likely follow promptly.

SpaceX, which is privately-owned, is one of the world’s most valuable companies because of its launch and space operations. Its wholly-owned subsidiary, Starlink, is expected to test an IPO in the future after becoming cash flow positive. The company already offers broadband internet from 2,800 satellites in low Earth orbit, which generates an estimated $500 million a year already. This partnership, and subsequent ones, would give SpaceX a push to that positive place.

T-Mobile US, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, is traded on the Nasdaq. The $180 billion Washington-based telecom giant acquired Sprint in a $26 billion deal, creating what the company calls “the leader in 5G.” If its representation is accurate, T-Mobile US will be the first major telecom to offer satellite communications on modern digital phones without adapters or add-on plans. The company generated $68.4 billion in revenue last year, of which they took home $3.47 billion in net income.

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