SpaceX, the world’s largest satellite operator, is looking to expand its services beyond Starlink internet with the goal of providing cellular connectivity. Concerns have been raised about potential interference from this new service, but SpaceX has submitted a 16-page analysis to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asserting that these concerns are exaggerated.
To move forward, SpaceX requires approval from the FCC, which is responsible for ensuring that wireless signals in the US do not cause interference. This is achieved through the licensing of spectrum blocks in specific geographic locations for cellular service. Some companies have voiced worries that SpaceX’s orbiting cell towers may disrupt licensed activities.
In response to the FCC’s request for further details on how the proposed cellular service would function, particularly regarding the ability to disable satellites causing interference in the 1.91 to 1.995 GHz band, SpaceX provided an analysis. The document emphasizes that interference from Starlink would be unforeseen and unlikely. SpaceX asserts that it has meticulously planned the direct-to-cell system, employing phased array antennas and efficient beam-planning software to minimize impact on terrestrial networks. This also enables Starlink to prevent unauthorized phone use outside the designated service area.
In addition, SpaceX confirms that Starlink is designed to allow for the deactivation of any part of the network. The company’s direct-to-cell network and topology software have the capability to swiftly adjust and cease operations across different satellites and geographic areas in near real-time. Several simulations in the submitted document demonstrate how SpaceX can dynamically reconfigure the expanded Starlink network to protect other satellite operators from interference.
SpaceX aims to secure FCC approval for its cellular service plans, with the intention of offering service as early as next year. The company has previously established a partnership with T-Mobile to provide coverage in remote areas that lack service options. Initially, the direct-to-cell service would focus on text messaging, but SpaceX envisions expanding to voice and data transmission via satellite by 2025.
While Apple introduced emergency satellite cell service on the iPhone 14 through a collaboration with Globalstar, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Satellite, which was expected to bring a similar feature to Android devices, was recently canceled before its release. The proposed T-Mobile service from SpaceX would be accessible to both Android and iPhone users.