A SpaceX executive said Monday that the company will start testing satellite-to-cellular communications this year, which will reportedly include operating on T-Mobile’s network. T-Mobile announced in August that its mobile network dead zones would get coverage from SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, but it didn’t say when that would happen.
At the Satellite Conference and Exhibition 2023, SpaceX VP of Starlink enterprise sales Jonathan Hofeller made the comment during a panel. The tests will include satellite-to-cellular service with T-Mobile, CNBC reported.
While it’s still not clear when T-Mobile customers will be able to benefit from Starlink coverage, it’s the first update since the carrier debuted its SpaceX partnership. That could mean they have the lead, as it’s not clear when AT&T’s network will get augmented by satellite provider AST Mobile, and Verizon’s chosen partner — Amazon’s Project Kuiper — has yet to launch a satellite into orbit.
The Satellite Conference’s panel attendants were reportedly optimistic about the growth of satellite-to-cellular communications despite how few consumers benefit from the technology. iPhone 14 users are some of the only smartphone owners who can use satellite communications using Apple’s Emergency SOS service. Samsung has its own solution in the works, though the phonemaker hasn’t announced which satellite network it will partner with.
Starlink has grown to “well over a million users,” Hofeller said, and SpaceX is building six next-generation satellites a day to add to the company’s constellation of around 4,000 satellites currently orbiting the planet.
Iridium CEO Matt Desch, who was also on the panel, touted the company’s partnership with Qualcomm for its upcoming Snapdragon Satellite service, as well as its “plan to evolve beyond just cell” to service computers and cars, CNBC reported.
T-Mobile declined to comment on SpaceX’s Starlink testing and hasn’t given a timeline for when satellite coverage will be added to its mobile network. SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.