SpaceX launches 6 Starlink satellites to enable global Internet access for 4G smartphones

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January 3, 2024
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2 min read
Satellite
  • After one year of teaming up with T-Mobile on a connectivity plan — Coverage Above and Beyond — SpaceX has launched its first direct-to-cell Starlink satellites. This comes after the company received a temporary experimental licence to test the service in the United States. 
  • Launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 10:44 p.m. Eastern on a Falcon 9 rocket, six of the 21 Starlink satellites carry a payload that, according to the company, could provide connectivity for most 4G LTE devices when in range.
  • The purpose of the six satellites is to establish a direct connection with unmodified smartphones.

While direct-to-cell service allows users to connect directly to their mobile devices, providing high-speed Internet access regardless of location, Elon Musk said it does not pose a significant threat to existing terrestrial cellular networks.

This technology, which works as an in-orbit phone tower for LTE phones, should allow Internet users to access it from anywhere in the world as long as there is an active signal from the satellite.  

Launched on January 3, the first satellite of Starlink Internet's direct-to-cell network will begin operating soon. The text feature will debut in 2024, and the voice, data, and IOT services will go live in 2025.

While it’s not clear which mobile operators the company has partnered with in Africa, SpaceX has collaborated with mobile operators in Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

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Recall that in December 2023, MTN Group partnered with Starlink to conduct enterprise-focused trials in Rwanda and Nigeria. 

In addition, Safaricom announced plans to launch satellite Internet services in July 2023. The telecom is collaborating with rival Starlink company AST SpaceMobile, which will employ a constellation of satellites that can communicate directly with common 4G smartphones to offer affordable broadband connectivity to remote and rural areas. 

Launched in 2019, Starlink is now available in over 70 countries, including Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and Malawi. 

Papua New Guinea's telecoms regulator recently granted Starlink a five-year licence to operate on the island while promising to crack down on illegal LEO satellite terminal operations.

While some African countries welcome Starlink's expansion, the Internet provider faces challenges in other nations, including South Africa and Ghana. For context, on December 7, 2023, Ghana declared Starlink illegal due to its failure to obtain a licence or type-approve its equipment before beginning operations. 

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