Recently SpaceX, filed a request with the United States of America Federal Communication Commission to equip 2,016 of its second generation Starlink satellites with a “direct-to -to-cellular system” that could beam data directly down to phones in areas lacking traditional cell coverage. While the real-world feasibility of this system is uncertain, Elon Musk led SpaceX claims that this system could one day provide voice, messaging, and web browsing data with “theoretical” upload and download speeds of 3.0 Mbps and 4.4 Mbps respectively and provide “full and continuous coverage of the Earth.” This request comes days after the FCC approved SpaceX's application to launch an 7,500 additional second-generation Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit.
At first, the service will focus on letting people send text messages from anywhere they have a clear view of the sky. And in time, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said T-Mobile will work on using that new network for voice calls and data connections.
Sievert says T-Mobile will be able to start beta testing the service “as soon as late next year,” beginning with the ability to send standard text (SMS) messages and multimedia messages (MMS). The company hasn’t confirmed whether that beta test will be open to members of the public or whether it would be for employees only.
According to information published in Spaceflight Now. As of November 2022, there were 3,271 Starlink satellites in orbit, of which 3,236 are operational, according to Astronomer Jonathan McDowell who tracks the constellation of satellites on his website.
The new network, according to SpaceX’s most recent FCC filings, will use “advanced phased array beam-forming and digital processing technologies” on each payload. When it launches, SpaceX expects its network will be available for residential, commercial, institutional, and governmental customers in the contiguous U.S., Puerto Rico, and parts of Alaska.
“In making this application, SpaceX seeks to leverage its existing space resources to provide even more ubiquitous connectivity options to Americans with a goal of ‘global affordable connectivity.’’’ SpaceX wrote.
SpaceX’s partnership with T-Mobile would mark a major turning point for Starlink, which has until recently, mostly struggled to find viable use cases for average consumers. Instead, the company has focused on growing their "constellation of satellites" and hope to one day see more than 42,000 active and operational units at Low Earth Orbit. While the recent approval of an additional 7,500 satellites is positive for SpaceX and other operators, it still fell far short of the 29,988 additional satellite launches it had hoped the agency would approve.