Starlink has said its satellite broadband service will soon be made available to provide text, voice and data capabilities on current 4G handsets.
The Elon Musk-founded firm operates a constellation of over 3,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit that can provide a broadband data service to devices across the globe, including in areas that aren’t served by traditional radio towers.
The newly-announced ‘Direct to Cell’ satellite phone service will launch next year ahead of plans to make it compatible with current 4G handsets by 2025.
Direct to Cell satellites will initially be launched on Falcon 9 rockets flown by SpaceX, which is also owned by Elon Musk, and then Starship, its upcoming super heavy lift launch vehicle. Once in orbit, the satellites will connect over laser backhaul to the Starlink constellation to provide global connectivity.
Peter Kibutu, advanced technology lead at satellite consultancy TTP, said: “Starlink continues to set ambitious targets for its satellite network; however, its plans to deliver a direct-to-cell service require scrutiny. Offering connectivity supported by unmodified 4G handsets might only result in low-bandwidth data and voice services, falling short of contemporary data demands and user experience.
“Starlink has made it clear that it will continue to use its own proprietary technology, which, while providing it with speed to market, could present roadblocks in years to come as it struggles to support high-performance connectivity services and use cases that will be readily available via other satellite operator’s 5G NTN networks.”
Shipping firm Maersk has also announced that more than 330 of its container vessels will have Starlink’s traditional service installed, enabling high-speed internet with speeds over 200Mbps.
The agreement follows a pilot scheme where crew members on more than 30 Maersk vessels had the opportunity to test the technology.
Besides benefits such as allowing crew members to keep in touch with family through video calls and other forms of communication, the firm said it would facilitate cost-saving measures by moving certain applications into the cloud and improving support for remote inspections of the vessels.
Leonardo Sonzio, Maersk’s head of fleet management, said: “We are excited to announce our journey with Starlink to provide state-of-the-art connectivity to our sea-going colleagues. The highspeed connectivity will enable our seagoing colleagues to stay connected with their loved ones while at sea. It will also propel the expansion of seamless cloud solutions, enabling our vision to digitise our vessel operations.”
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