SpaceX launches first Starlink satellites for global mobile coverage – Could SA fall further behind?

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched its first six Starlink satellites, marking a milestone in its mission to provide mobile phone service to remote areas. Operating as space-based cell towers, these satellites will enable text messaging in areas with weak or no traditional cell signals. SpaceX aims to expand services to include voice and data, with US approval granted for testing the Direct to Cell service. Starlink’s collaboration with global carriers, including T-Mobile and international partners, positions it as a key player in the satellite-enabled mobile communication market, projecting substantial sales growth in 2024.

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SpaceX Launches First Cell Service Satellites With T-Mobile
By Todd Shields

Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched its first six satellites capable of offering mobile phone service as the company races to bring more connectivity to remote areas. 

Operating like a cell tower in space, the Starlink satellites will work with users’ existing phones, rather than using specialized equipment, to enable text messaging in areas where traditional cell signals are weak or nonexistent. SpaceX will later be able to offer voice and data, said Kate Tice, senior quality systems engineering manager, on a webcast for the launch Tuesday. 

Falcon 9 launches 21 @Starlink satellites to orbit from California, including six with Direct to Cell capabilities →

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 3, 2024
SpaceX, formally called Space Exploration Technologies Corp., obtained US approval last month to run tests of the service called Direct to Cell.

The service “will allow for mobile phone connectivity anywhere on Earth,” Musk said in a post on the social media site X, though he added that technical limitations mean “it is not meaningfully competitive with existing terrestrial cellular networks.”

Companies are vying to tap the market for satellite-enabled calls offering connections to normal consumer mobile phones. SpaceX is working with T-Mobile US Inc., and AT&T Inc. has partnered with satellite operator AST SpaceMobile Inc. 

Apple Inc. iPhones let users send texts via satellite to first responders and report emergencies in areas without cellular coverage. 

SpaceX will work with other carriers in the rest of the world: Singapore Telecommunications Ltd.’s Optus in Australia, Salt Mobile SA in Switzerland, Rogers Communications Inc. in Canada, One New Zealand Group Ltd. in New Zealand, Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones SA in Chile and Peru and KDDI Corp. in Japan.

Starlink is expected to generate about $10 billion of overall sales this year, eclipsing its rocket launch business and accounting for two-thirds of the total, Bloomberg News has reported. Musk is considering an initial public offering for the fast-growing Starlink satellite business as soon as late 2024, according to Bloomberg.

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© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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