Why is Starlink Quietly Launching Direct-to-Cell Satellites?

Why is Starlink Quietly Launching Direct-to-Cell Satellites?

Just imagine being able to connect and communicate from anywhere on Earth, even if you are hundreds of kilometers away from any significant cell tower. Starlink is quietly building what is essentially the holy grail of the communication industry: the concept.

It’s not an easy process, though: using the same service to connect a smartphone or any other device quickly and reliably, no matter where the user is, has always eluded innovators. It’s one of the most challenging technical tasks of all time.

However, Starlink and startup partners are pushing a new technology dubbed Direct-to-Cell that aims to achieve just that. Should testing prove fruitful, your smartphone may become an antenna, negating the necessity for bulky equipment in conventional networks.

Key Takeaways

  • Starlink is launching Direct-to-Cell (DtC) satellites to provide global connectivity, even in remote areas.
  • DtC can currently send text messages using existing phones, and Starlink plans to offer voice, data, and IoT by 2025.
  • Starlink’s unique model with SpaceX allows them to build the DtC network first, overcoming limitations in phone technology.
  • By launching DtC satellites now, Starlink positions itself as the leader in future global communication.

Starlink Launches 13 More New Direct-To-Cell Satellites

Direct-to-Cell (DtC) is a novel and experimental idea that currently has a long way to go before it is completely practical. But this isn’t stopped Elon Musk from starting his firm and developing DtC faster than any other.

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 on Tuesday, June 18, at 8:40 p.m. from the Vandenberg Space Force Station in California. 20 Starlink satellites were carried by the rocket. Of those satellites, thirteen have DtC capabilities.

However, these DtC Starlink satellites are not the first to enter Earth’s orbit. On June 8, just ten days prior, Starlink launched twenty more satellites into orbit, thirteen of which were DtC satellites.

The point is, why is Starlink deploying these satellites if DtC is not yet ready for primetime? The response? Starlink has a strategy, but it keeps much of it under wraps.


DtC Text Tech Tested and Operating: ‘Voice and Data in 2025’, Starlink Says

Using one of their first DtC satellites, Starlink declared on January 8 that they had successfully transmitted and received their first text messages. Though it could have been too sophisticated for widespread media attention, the announcement represents a significant step forward in the development of global connectedness.

The original communications were carried over the T-Mobile network spectrum, but according to Starlink, its DtC now gives users access to a global provider network that includes T-Mobile, Optus, Rogers, One NZ, KDDI, Salt, and Entel.

Miles Ward, the CTO of SADA, a company exploring DtC partnerships to provide edge computing services to the sector, talked with Techopedia. Ward talked about Starlink’s strategy and DtC.

Ward says that as DtC technology develops, there won’t be as much of a difference in the user experience between satellite and terrestrial connectivity.

Starlink claims that by 2025, its DtC satellites will be able to send and receive voice and data to every point in the world, including dead zones (areas without coverage), and connect IoT devices.

Turning Your Phone into A Powerful Antenna

The biggest roadblock the industry has faced when developing DtC, has always been developing smartphones (with special hardware and software) capable of ‘acting as an antenna’. Ward from SADA broke it down for us.

However, Starlink has found a way around the problem. Its DtC tech works on any cell phone without needing new hardware, upgrades, or any special app. The technology uses standard LTE/4G protocols.

It is unclear whether Starlink DtC can handle 5G, but scaling to 5G and even 6G could be possible, thanks to hardware virtualization and Starlink’s model and resources.

According to Ward, “Starlink definitely intends to replace satellites on a regular basis due to their LEO design.” Because of SpaceX, the cost profile for launching new satellites is so cheap that their lifespan is intended to be quite brief. They are in a unique position to enable additional capabilities, should new hardware be needed.

As stated by Starlink, these satellites are capable of managing timing delays, Doppler shift, and satellite handoffs.

It is anticipated that SpaceX will launch a constellation of DtC-capable Starlink satellites; however, it is unclear how many of these satellites would need to circle the planet in order to offer worldwide coverage.

It’s possible that the DtC gear from Starlink, which is now in space, was built to virtually grow to voice, data, and Internet of Things.

This suggests that while virtual software improvements might enable the business to offer complete communications services, including video, data, and IoT automation and operation, hardware technology changes could not have a major impact.

Starlink Establishes The DtC Beachhead

Considering that launches just started a few years ago, Starlink had launched over 5,000 satellites by the beginning of 2024—an amazing feat. To enable DtC, Starlink also makes use of all of its current ground stations, networking, and Points of Presence (PoPs). DtC data seamlessly integrates with the operator’s core by passing through Starlink’s core.

The business now has over 2.3 million global clients, but gaining a monopoly in DtC technology may propel the brand to new heights and make it a valuable service for billions of people worldwide.

According to Sada Ward, we can learn a great deal about the next generations from the systems that came before them.

DtC is still in its “early days,” according to David Nicholson, Chief Research Officer of The Futurum Group, a family of organizations with top tech analysts providing industry research and insights to C-Suite executives. Nicholson made this statement to Techopedia.

The Bottom Line

With its rapid deployment of Direct-to-Cell (DtC) satellites, Starlink is establishing itself as the leader in the field of future global connectivity. Though the technology is still in its early stages, Starlink has already overcome a major challenge by combining text messaging with widely used telephones.

Starlink is able to sidestep the problems that obstruct DtC development because of its unique location, which includes its constellation of satellites, pre-existing network infrastructure, and inexpensive launch pricing via SpaceX.

With Starlink’s DtC service, voice, data, and even IoT capabilities may all be easily integrated. This might revolutionize networking and provide billions of people access to the internet everywhere.

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