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.