I can’t wait to be in the middle of a backpacking trip and take a FaceTime call.
I’ve personally been waiting for Starlink to start rolling out its satellite cell phone service. As someone who loves to hike, camp, and go backpacking, such a service would be a huge boost to staying connected in the outdoors. Now, we finally have an idea as to when this service is going to launch and which carriers are going to support it.
As spotted by PCMag, Starlink has published a new page on its website that outlines the service, when it will launch, and what cellular carriers will partner with Starlink at launch. According to the website, the service, which is called “Direct to Cell,” will officially launch next year. At launch, the service will only support texting, but the company isn’t stopping there. It is promising to add support for voice and data as well as IOT (Internet of Things) only a year later in 2025.
According to the webpage, Direct to Cell will be available at launch for T-Mobile customers in the United States, Optus customers in Australia, Rogers customers in Canada, One NZ customers in New Zealand, KDDI customers in Japan, and SALT customers in Switzerland.
So, how will it work? Starlink says that the service will work whether you be on “land, lakes, or coastal waters.” So, it appears that while the middle of the ocean might be out right now (probably not enough people out there to warrant covering oceans with satellites), you should be able to get service anywhere else across the globe.
The company also says that “Direct to Cell works with existing LTE phones wherever you can see the sky. No changes to hardware, firmware, or special apps are required, providing seamless access to text, voice, and data.” As someone who remembers the days of carriers loading crappy in-house apps onto smartphones that they sold, I am very appreciative that I won’t need to use an app from T-Mobile or Starlink in order to benefit from this service. Just like roaming, I’ll be able to simply continue using iMessage like nothing changed despite switching from T-Mobile to Starlink’s connection.
Starlink is continuing to build out its satellite constellation at scale, saying that it plans to eventually start launching new satellites using SpaceX‘s Starship, its massive rocket that will also take the first humans to Mars.
SpaceX is leveraging its experience in manufacturing and launching the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft to deploy Starlink satellites with the Direct to Cell capability at scale.
Direct to Cell satellites will initially be launched on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and then Starship. On orbit the satellites will immediately connect over laser backhaul to the Starlink constellation to provide global connectivity.
The company still needs to go through regulatory approval before it can launch the service next year, but I doubt the governments of the world would shut this one down. This is a huge benefit for everyone and competition in the satellite communication industry is a good thing. I’d love to not have to text through Garmin’s inReach Explore app anymore when I’m on the trail.