Starlink teases "Direct to Cell" satellite phone service

Shawn Knight

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Forward-looking: Starlink, the satellite internet service from SpaceX, is looking to add cellular to its growing list of consumer-facing services. The company has published a landing page for its upcoming wireless service, tentatively dubbed Starlink Direct to Cell, where interested parties can learn more about the planned rollout.

Starlink aims to start offering text messaging in 2024 followed by voice, data, and Internet of Things support a year later. Direct to Cell should support most standard LTE-compatible phones without any additional hardware, enabling connectivity regardless of whether you are on land or water, or anywhere near a traditional cell tower. Think of it like cell towers in space.

Starlink says the service will work "wherever you can see the sky," which suggests it may only be ideal for use outdoors. Satellites with Direct to Cell capability will be initially launched on Falcon 9 rockets and eventually, using Starship.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced plans for space-based cell towers in August 2022. In the US, SpaceX will be partnering with T-Mobile on the rollout. Musk at the time said the service should also likely work in your car or if your phone is in your pocket.

Satellite-based connectivity has been gaining momentum as of lately, but it is still years away from mainstream adoption. Apple, for example, added an Emergency SOS feature to its iPhone 14 (and later) to text emergency services when you are off the grid and do not have access to cellular or Wi-Fi.

AT&T, meanwhile, has joined forces with AST SpaceMobile and successfully completed a two-way voice call using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 back in April.

Starlink's pricing will largely determine whether or not Direct to Cell gains widespread adoption. Priced within reason, it could be a viable alternative to traditional cellular service for those who live in regions with spotty coverage or those that frequent the outdoors. Priced astronomically like some of its other services, it will be out of reach for most and have no meaningful impact for the foreseeable future.

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I've broached this topic a few times here in the comments section but it continues to crop up so I'll see if I can't put this one to bed once and for all.

NO Starlinks prices are not nor have they ever been "Astronomical", for those who do not have any experience with the cost associated with the offshore or maritime shipping industries the number will appear to be a magnitude of more out of step with your perception of realistic costs associated with the connection latency and bandwidth being provided. This is due to the incorrect framing of the service without the proper context of its actual market.


This was the cost of offshore internet experienced within the industry before Starlink became an option in the space. Prior to Starlink you would have been talking about $35-45K USD/Month for service that was only guaranteed at 8mbps down and 2mbps up. Yes this is absurd and yet it was the state of that industry before Starlink.


Moving on to 2020 the situation had not improved as the cost to bandwidth had not improved in any meaningful manner. Starlink was on the horizon figuratively and literally, though there were still concerns about the network meshing and whether it would be a realistic option for serious marine carriers.

Here we are in 2023 and like so many other industries the cost to even small offshore enterprises such as crab boats and inshore fisheries vessels is easily affordable as the bandwidth has gone from 8mbps down to a 40Mbps down(320mbps so an order and a half of magnitude, 40x or 4000% increase depending on your preferred representation) while the cost for said massive increase in bandwidth has dropped by over 130x (specifically 137 at current CAD to USD exchange rates). Starlink brought the bar of entry for the smaller operators out there down by and effective 4000x when adjusted for bandwidth on offer, just let that marinate for a moment.

Personally I contracted with Maersk and Secunda Marine providing secured and bonded transport of restricted access pharmaceuticals to their ships infirmaries during their resupply here in my home city in Newfoundland. A regular point of conversation amongst the crew was the absurd costs associated with video calls to their families onshore during resupply journeys out to the Hibernia and Terra nova petroleum platforms or while removing rogue ice bergs from collision paths with said platforms on the Grand banks.

Long story short the context of the pricing here has been preposterously misrepresented (I'm not inferring that was by intent though as very few folks realize just how absurd the geosat based internet industry was). There seems to be a massive blind spot related to just how revolutionary a game changer tech like starlink is to anything Rural or offshore. The numbers speak for themselves, this was yet another industry that was stagnant to the point of absurdity before everyone's favorite South African expat and his teams of world beating engineers decided that whole industry was an appropriately soft target of opportunity.
 
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NO Starlinks prices are not nor have they ever been "Astronomical", for those who do not have any experience with the cost associated with the offshore or maritime shipping industries the number will appear to be a magnitude of more out of step with your perception of realistic costs associated with the connection latency and bandwidth being provided. This is due to the incorrect framing of the service without the proper context of its actual market.

We don't come here for the quality of the journalism (or lack of), just the comment section.
 
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