Advanced Television

Starlink to pre-empt AST SpaceMobile this autumn

June 3, 2024

SpaceX has confirmed it is working with T-Mobile in the US to launch its Starlink direct-to-cell (DTC) service commercially “this autumn”. This suggests that Starlink will be available – albeit in limited applications – while its rival AST SpaceMobile will only have just started to launch its satellites into orbit.

Starlink has a global broadband user base of more than 3 million and is now adding DTC satellites to its existing fleet of more than 6,000 satellites. Starlink is expected to have a minimum of 300 suitable DTC satellites by the autumn, and expanding rapidly to a reported fleet of 840 which they have mentioned in FTC filings.

T-Mobile is the third-largest wireless operator in the US with 117.9 million subscribers as at December 31st 2023. Starlink and T-Mobile signed their cooperation agreement in 2022.

The objective is to potentially use the Starlink satellites to serve T-Mobile clients in areas where the operator does not supply cell towers or offer terrestrial coverage, regardless of the users’ phones. This could potentially eliminate all of T-Mobile’s outdoor dead and non-service zones.

Initially, it is understood that Starlink satellite services will be limited to early-stage SMS/Text-type messages with voice and broadband to follow by the end of 2025. By any measure either service – AST or Starlink – will hugely benefit rural and isolated users, and ensuring that no area remains unconnected providing that users have ‘line-of-sight’ to the satellite orbits.

T-Mobile officials have not yet itemised how the Starlink service might be priced and what the revenue share model might be with Starlink. However, there are suggestions that SpaceX’s satellite service will be included in T-Mobile’s more expensive service plans for no extra charge, or through a supplemental charge on its other plans.

T-Mobile is not alone with a direct-to-cell agreement with SpaceX’s Starlink. Canada’s Rogers, Australia’s Optus, New Zealand’s ‘One’, Japan’s KDDI, Salt in Switzerland and Entel in Chile and Peru all have agreements in place.

May 31st saw analysts from investment house ARK Invest suggest say that satellite-based direct-to-device revenues could build to be worth $48 billion by 2030. ARK admits that there’s likely to be plenty of financial headroom for success by AST SpaceMobile and Starlink.

Starlink started populating its DTC craft on January 2 this year. According to SpaceX ‘volume’ launches will start this week on June 6th. The month of May saw SpaceX make 14 launches of its Falcon 9 rocket, a record. It placed 221 of its ‘ordinary’ Ku-band satellites into orbit during the month plus 26 DTC craft. Those 26 DTC satellite represent more than 8 per cent of the craft needed for its initial DTC service, according to Dr Tim Farrar of Telecom, Media & Finance Associates.

Later this week SpaceX will launch its 4th huge Starship test rocket.

Categories: Blogs, Inside Satellite, Satellite

Tags: , ,