T-Mobile US Inc. has partnered with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide wireless phone service in remote areas of the United States with spotty coverage.
Musk and T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert announced the partnership Thursday night at an event at SpaceX’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. The service will launch next year, work with existing phones for free on the company’s most popular plans, and will be rolled out in phases, Sievert said. Low-priced plan customers may pay an additional fee.
Elon Musk (right), co-founder and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Tesla Inc., speaks at a press conference with Mike Sievert (left), president and CEO of T-Mobile US Inc. I’m here.
Musk said the service, powered by SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, should be able to handle messages, images and possibly small video files, but warned that transmissions could take up to 30 minutes in the early stages of deployment. Voice functionality will come later.
SpaceX is designing a special antenna that will be attached to the company’s second-generation internet satellite so that T-Mobile customers can connect, he said. The V2 satellite, still in development, will be launched by SpaceX on his Starship rocket.
Musk says the satellite-based service will work even if a hurricane or natural disaster strikes and knocks out traditional cell phone towers. Ultimately, he said, it will save the lives of injured and stranded people in remote parts of the world.
The billionaire added that SpaceX is offering an “open invitation” to other carriers to work with Starlink. This service may eventually work in space.
“I want T-Mobile on Mars,” he said.
Musk later tweeted that the service would be added to Tesla vehicles, allowing drivers to make emergency calls and text messages.
SpaceX’s Starlink division’s initial business model was to bring broadband Internet service to homes, especially rural areas not served by landline providers. The company has about 2,800 satellites in low earth orbit that have been launched in recent years.
T-Mobile is building one of the nation’s largest 5G networks to bring faster internet connectivity to phones and homes.
Their move is a rival to Kuiper Systems LLC, the low-Earth-orbit satellite subsidiary of fellow billionaire Amazon.com Inc. Jeff Bezos, which announced a similar deal last year with Verizon Communications. Amazon.com’s Project Kuiper signed one of the largest launch contracts ever in April to send more than 3,000 satellites into space.