Elon Musk recently made some significant announcements about the Starlink system, specifically the second-generation internet-beaming satellites floating in low-Earth orbit and their future integration with automobiles. During a meeting with a T-Mobile executive earlier this week, Musk announced that beginning next year, T-Mobile phones will be able to connect to the internet via a new wave of Starlink satellites outfitted with custom antenna hardware.
The idea is to enable global satellite internet connectivity over existing cellular bands with none special telecom hardware other than the satellites provided by Starlink. Or, as T-Mike Mobile’s Sievert puts it, “it s like putting a cellular tower in the sky, but a lot more difficult.” The plans are ambitious, and if carried out, they could be game changers for people in disaster-affected areas or those in need of emergency assistance in remote areas. Apple is said to be considering a similar technology for iPhones.
Starlink has yet to technically demonstrate the technology, but there is precedent for it. Lynk showed a two-way data link with a satellite acting as an intermediary for signal reception and direct broadcast in September 2021. Fast forward to February 2022, when the company signed agreements to provide satellite-direct-to-phone services to seven Pacific and Caribbean island nations. SpaceX’s Starlink division wants to go beyond phones by allowing Tesla cars to access some of that satellite internet bandwidth.
Putting satellite internet in your car
Again, the idea of satellites communicating with automobiles is not entirely novel. Geely, a Chinese automaker, launched nine low-Earth orbit satellites earlier this year. In the near future, the company hopes that these satellites will form the backbone of a low-Earth orbit infrastructure that will guide its autonomous cars.
Musk has only confirmed that Starlink connectivity is a possibility and that Tesla car owners will be able to call or text. For the time being, there is no estimated date for the introduction of full satellite internet connectivity in Tesla vehicles. For competition, the hottest comes from China, where electric upstarts are making a strong impression thanks to strong sales and impressive technology.
Consider Huawei, which has enlisted the help of more than a dozen automakers to implement its HiCar system and create a “5G automotive ecosystem.” The race among automakers to put 5G internet in their vehicles is already well underway, but it has yet to make an impact in Tesla’s home market.