SpaceX Has Just Made the First Video Call With an iPhone Connected Directly to a Starlink Satellite

  • Any LTE Band 25-supported phone will be able to connect to Starlink’s Direct to Cell service.

  • Starlink announced on Tuesday that it has surpassed 3 million customers in the 99 countries where it’s available.

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SpaceX has been working on a new direct-to-cell mobile service using Starlink satellites. While satellite emergency messaging has become more common, Starlink’s Direct to Cell service will even allow users to make video calls with an ordinary smartphone.

A video call via Starlink. As seen in an X post, two SpaceX engineers demonstrated a video call through Starlink between a Google Pixel and an iPhone, both unmodified.

The Pixel was connected to a terrestrial cellular antenna, while the iPhone used Starlink’s Direct to Cell satellite connection. Neither device had parabolic antennas or extra hardware. Despite some pixelation on the satellite-connected device, the video call was not interrupted during the short demonstration.

How it works. SpaceX has launched several Starlink satellites equipped with direct-to-cell connection. The latest 13 satellites were launched on May 14 from California. While these satellites aren’t as fast as Starlink’s residential service due to physical limitations of the antenna beam, they still achieve a respectable speed of 17 Mbps.

In the U.S., Starlink has partnered with T-Mobile for pre-deployment testing of the service. SpaceX engineers are conducting these tests in the PCS G frequency block, which is equivalent to Band 25 of the LTE spectrum. This means that virtually any modern smartphone can connect directly to Starlink’s Direct to Cell satellite, even indoors.

When will it be available? Instead of offering its services directly to customers, Starlink is partnering with carriers around the world to provide Starlink’s Direct to Cell as an additional service. T-Mobile, Rogers, Salt, and Entel will offer their customers the option to connect to Starlink satellites in areas without coverage.

The rollout will be gradual. By the end of 2024, customers of these operators will be able to send SMS, MMS, and emergency calls in areas without coverage. According to SpaceX, they will also be able to use their mobile data starting in 2025.

The goose that laid the golden egg. Starlink announced on Tuesday that it has surpassed 3 million customers in the 99 countries where it’s available. The company, which now operates more than 6,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit, has transitioned from operating at a loss to generating billion-dollar profits. SpaceX is the only company capable of achieving this, as it’s the only one that launches and lands its rockets on a regular basis.

Image | SpaceX

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