San Francisco With a new generation of Starlink satellites, any ordinary smartphone will soon be able to connect to the space internet. This means that there should be no more dead spots in the future – initially in the USA, but in the long term all over the world, billionaire Elon Musk announced on Thursday evening in the USA.
The bandwidth of the new technology is limited, but Musk restricted it. “They will be able to send text messages,” Musk promised. With particularly good reception, it may even be possible to retrieve videos.
However, the technology is not able to replace conventional mobile networks. The new Starlink network is primarily designed to enable connectivity in regions without any reception.
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The reception performance of the technology is between two and four megabits per second per cell, Musk said. If several devices use the same radio cell, they have to share the bandwidth. For comparison: The provider Ookla, which specializes in Internet speeds, put the average download rate in mobile communications in Germany in July 2022 at around 53 megabits per second.
Elon Musk and T-Mobile want to bring Internet to remote regions
“This technique will save lives,” Musk said. In the future, people in remote regions will be able to call for help if they get into trouble: for example a mountaineer who has an accident or a traveler who gets caught in a storm. “We assume that no smartphone will have to be held in the air for this, but that the devices will also have reception as normal in your pocket or in the car,” said Musk.
“The beta phase will start at the end of next year,” announced T-Mobile boss Mike Sievert. “The technology will work with standard smartphones,” said Sievert. Starlink supplies the satellites. T-Mobile provides mobile spectrum. There will be no additional costs for end customers, but the service will be included in existing contracts, Sievert promised.
However, Musk announced that the technology should not be limited to T-Mobile in the USA, but would be rolled out worldwide. “This is an open invitation to wireless companies around the world: please contact us,” Musk said.
A spokesman for Deutsche Telekom said on request that the cooperation is initially limited to the USA and does not apply to Germany or other national companies of Telekom.
>> Read also: Too fast, too expensive, limited: Elon Musk’s satellite internet is reaching the limits of technology
The partnership is a win for both Starlink and T-Mobile, according to Don Kellogg of the consulting firm Recon Analytics. “Musk can find new business for Starlink and T-Mobile can finally close dead spots,” Kellogg said. A number of companies have so far tried to open up satellite Internet for a mass market, but have failed.
“The special thing about the approach is that it should be able to be used with normal mobile phones,” Kellogg told Handelsblatt. First of all, however, it remains to be seen whether the promises of reception and speed can also be kept.
Starlink offers mobile Internet based on satellites in low earth orbit. Due to the comparatively short distance of around 550 kilometers, the satellites enable a fast internet signal from “Low Earth Orbit” (Leo) almost anywhere in the world.
Starlink already has 400,000 customers
The subsidiary of Elon Musk’s satellite company Space X offers its services in more than 30 countries, including Germany. Customers have to purchase a satellite dish and then pay a monthly fee. It’s currently $110 a month in the US, plus $599 for hardware. In May, Starlink announced it had more than 400,000 paying customers worldwide.
After Startlink had initially offered the services primarily for private households, the company recently received approval in the USA for extended use on boats or in mobile homes. In addition, Starlink now offers a business tariff with improved hardware and higher performance. Starlink charges $500 a month for this.
The more users Startlink has in a region, the more Internet speeds can drop. In the US, Ookla reported that Startlink users’ average download rate fell from 105 megabits per second (Mbps) in the last quarter of 2021 to an average of 91 Mbps in the first quarter of 2022. On the other hand, Starlink promises business customers download rates of up to 350 Mbps.
Most recently, Starlink had experienced a setback. The FCC had withdrawn subsidies of around one billion dollars from the company, which was intended to provide households in rural US with Internet. Starlink and rival LTD Broadband could not convince the authority that they could deliver the promised services, the FCC said.
US agency removes billions in subsidy for Starlink
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said, “We cannot afford to subsidize companies that are not delivering the speeds promised or are unlikely to meet the program’s requirements.” Rosenworcel added that SpaceX’s technology is “promising,” but emphasized that Starlink is still in the “development phase”.
For Starlink, it is also about developing a long-term viable business model. Operating the network is expensive.
The satellites have to be replaced every five to seven years because they sink and burn up due to the Earth’s gravity due to their low orbit. Overall, Musk expects investments of 20 to 30 billion dollars.
The costs for the antennas for the end customers are currently estimated at more than 1000 dollars. The price should drop to $500 “in the next generation of devices,” Musk said. Later it should drop to $300 or $250.
The cooperation with T-Mobile and other mobile phone companies should open up new sources of income for Starlink. The focus on stationary antennas could become significantly less important.
Amazon and the EU want to create their own satellite internet
In addition, Musk should also try to get ahead of the Amazon founder and rival Jeff Bezos to expand Because he is working on a network that competes with Starlink. Amazon recently announced that it would send 3,236 satellites into low-Earth orbit. In 2024 Amazon wants to offer the Internet via satellite, in 2028 it should be fully functional.
However, Starlink has a few years head start. SpaceX has launched more than 2,000 satellites since 2018.
The EU is also working on a European response to Starlink because Elon Musk made the services of his satellite network Starlink available to the Ukrainians at the beginning of the war. The internet service from space allows Ukrainian soldiers to keep in touch with their commanders even on the most remote sections of the front. The EU could not offer anything comparable.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton proposed the creation of a separate European space internet: “Secure Connectivity Initiative” is the working title. However, the plans still lag far behind those of Starlink and Amazon.
More: Power struggle in space: satellite internet is to become a “strategic instrument” of the EU