SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company that develops aerospace technology and that, among other things, has a global satellite internet network, announced yesterday afternoon a agreement with the US telephone company T-Mobile to provide satellite 5Gthat is, without requiring a nearby antenna to have service. Strictly speaking, the satellites will function as orbital antennas, instead of being located on the ground. This will allow you to have a signal in rural or mountainous areas.
The system will use star linkSpaceX’s network of low-orbiting satellites (the one that generates the “trains of satellites” that are seen in the night sky when they are released into orbit), and will serve to offer connectivity in rural areas in most of the United States, including very remote areas: it will be enough to have a view of the sky to receive a signal. It will also bring connectivity to Tesla cars.
The service will go into operation next year in the United States once some regulatory and technological issues are resolved, and the new generation of satellites (v2) being developed by Starlink is in orbit. And it will not require, on the user side, space equipment: it will transmit in the conventional 5G frequencies used by modern phones. In this it differs from the satellite Internet service offered by SpaceX, which does require an antenna; this allows you a higher speed service.
Via Twitter, Elon Musk announced that the new version of SpaceX, capable of connecting directly with phones, will be available later for the rest of the world, but that it will not have high bandwidth for now, but will be limited to 2 to 4 Megabits per cell: It will work for sending text messages or making calls, but no more. Once it works, the coverage would be global: in the middle of the mountain, the desert or the sea.
As detailed in the Starlink statement, 90 percent of the earth’s surface does not have telephone coverage of any kind. This includes, of course, the seas, deserts and Antarctica: current networks are limited to inhabited areas or where a sufficient number of people transit the place to justify the installation of a telephone antenna. Satellite 5G aims to change this. Modestly; It is not used to watch Netflix for now, but it is to be connected anywhere.
The announcement comes after the approval of the 5G NTN standardwhich precisely contemplates the provision of 5G connectivity from the sky. Starlink is not the only telecommunications company planning something like this: the idea of using low orbit satellites (such as those used by Starlink, although it is far from the only one; they use a band that goes from 200 to 2000 km high, approximately) such as 4G or 5G antennas is in the industry.
A first test concept was the Google’s Loon balloons, which carried a 4G antenna to provide coverage from the stratosphere (25 km high) in rural areas (where installing an antenna is not profitable due to the low number of users it has) or in areas where the steepness of the terrain makes it difficult to provide this mobile telephony service. Having nothing between the cell phone and the antenna facilitates connectivity and expands the coverage area.
In July of this year, Ericsson, Qualcomm and Thales confirmed that next year they will do the first tests to offer 5G from space. The initial tests will be done in an emulated space environment in France, where most of the European space industry is based.
In 2021, rumors intensified that the iPhone 13 would have satellite connectivity provided by Globalstar: That company announced that it will offer satellite 5G from a band (the N53) that is present in the modem used by the iPhone 13 (among other phones), something that did not happen then, but that will happen next year with the Starlink satellites .
Perhaps the most ambitious design is that of AST SpaceMobile, a company that seeks to offer satellite mobile connectivity, using low orbit satellites (700 km high) with multiple antennas, in a kind of 65 square meter drop-down panel. This will allow you provide 4G and 5G service (associated with Nokia) to multiple users simultaneously on a huge terrain (approximately 2 times the entire surface of Argentina for each satellite): the first prototype, Bluewalker 3, arrived at Cape Canaveral this month, and is awaiting launch into space; The company believes that with 200 of these satellites it could provide connectivity throughout the planet, and using standard frequencies (that is, without requiring additional equipment).
The clear advantage with which he runs Starlink, of course, is that it already has a network of thousands of satellites operating around the world, dedicated to the provision of satellite internet, so activating your global mobile phone service will only depend on the agreements you reach with the different companies in each country. It will soon have competition: Amazon already has more than 80 launches scheduled to put its Kuiper network into orbit, with more than 3,200 satellites planned; and OneWeb, an industry pioneer, already has 428 of its 628 satellites in orbit, announcing in July that it will merge with another network, Eutelsat. Meanwhile, Starlink already has 2,800 operational satellites in orbit. It aims to have 4,000 in operation.