Elon Musk has pledged to eradicate mobile phone “not spots” with his network of Starlink satellites, promising to allow people to send texts in areas of low or no signal.
The billionaire has claimed mobile phones will soon be able to connect to his Starlink network, replicating the technology usually reversed for bulky satellite phones.
In a deal with US mobile network T-Mobile, Starlink said it will launch a new fleet of satellites that can provide mobile signals in remote areas with no terrestrial base stations. Mr. Musk’s company will give smartphone users the ability to send texts from mobile “not-spots” – an area with no or low internet – by connecting to one of thousands of satellites in low earth orbit.
While satellite phones already exist, these specialized handsets are typically bulky and cost thousands of pounds.
Mr. Musk claimed that Starlink’s service would allow regular mobile phones to connect to signals. Mr Musk said the service would launch next year and “transmit directly to mobile phones, eliminating dead zones worldwide”.
Its deal with T-Mobile will initially aim to eliminate remote blackspots in the US. The signal will be extremely limited, between two and four megabits per second, and only reliable for sending or receiving text messages. Mr Musk said it would ultimately aim to include voice calls and internet connectivity.
Mr. Musk said: “We need to do more than simply reprogram the satellites. We are constructing a special antenna, a very big antenna, that is extremely advanced. They have to be able to pick up a very quiet signal from your cell phone, traveling 500 miles to be picked up by a satellite traveling at 17,000 miles per hour.”
Analysts said the project faced a number of technical and legal hurdles.
The current radio spectrum employed by Starlink satellites is not used for communication with mobile phones. Starlink, which is part of Mr. Musk’s SpaceX rocket venture, will need to repurpose its network to communicate using mid-band mobile frequencies owned by T-Mobile.
Bill Ray, an analyst at Gartner, said the “technology is pretty much proven on paper… but there are significant barriers”. Starlink currently does not have the right to deploy the new wave of thousands of satellites needed to provide mobile connections.
It also does not have permission to use different frequencies for mobile signals, and its efforts to expand its spectrum rights have met opposition from rivals worried about interference.
Launching the new Starlink satellites will also require the use of SpaceX’s larger, heavier Starship rockets. These are still under construction and have yet to achieve a successful launch.
The deal with T-Mobile covers the US, but Starlink will need to reach other agreements with operators around the world to expand its coverage internationally.
Separately, British satellite company Inmarsat said its revenues had increased by 5pc in the three months ending in June, up to $363m. Inmarsat, which provides internet connectivity to aircraft and via satellite phones, said aviation revenues had increased 48pc as global travel rebounded.