SpaceX Starlink service could be coming to iPhone and Android via satellite hotspot

In a filing Monday with the FCC, SpaceX reveals that it wants to add the 2 GHz frequency to its Starlink license for use with “mobile users”. Although we don’t know much about what this indicates, this could be the start of offering its service to cell phone users.

SpaceX’s satellite internet service, Starlink, has grown significantly over the past few years. The number of satellites has exploded this year, with SpaceX now operating more than 2,500 satellites in orbit with nearly half a million subscribers.

This extension to the 2 GHz frequency would indicate that its signals are less affected by obstructing objects and would be more user-friendly for small devices, such as smartphones. The filing was first found by PCMag and describes how expanding Starlink’s coverage to 2 GHz will benefit all Americans.

Americans are increasingly demanding connectivity wherever they are, whenever they want and whatever they do. In particular, they have become accustomed to being able to connect using small portable devices that they can carry with them or affix to mobile platforms.

SpaceX according to its FCC filing

SpaceX says it can achieve this capability through its acquisition of Swarm, a nano-satellite technology company providing data for Internet of Things devices. SpaceX acquired the company in August last year.

According to Monday’s FCC filing, existing Starlink satellites would not be capable of this “mobile service.” So instead, SpaceX said it would attach new modules to satellites and produce a small mobile device that users could connect to on the ground.

The small portable device proposed by SpaceX would be used instead of the large dish which requires a wall outlet for power. However, the FCC filing does not detail what this device will look like or exactly how big it will be.

Possible use in iPhones and other smartphones in the future

First reported in 2019, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that Apple was considering adding satellite connectivity to its iPhones. Could this “Starlink for mobile users” feature mean a collaboration between SpaceX and Apple?

Probably not yet, but you can quickly draw the line between the two companies as Apple is unlikely to develop its own satellites. Other satellite constellation providers may compete to work with Apple. OneWeb has been building its LEO constellations for a few years now, and Amazon’s Project Kuiper should start rolling out soon.

LEO constellations would make the most sense to Apple because they offer lower latency than geostationary satellites from ViaSat or others. For example, SpaceX says its mobile service latency could be as low as 50ms, which it says would not be noticeable to users. This type of low latency service will be a requirement for Apple if it adopts this satellite iPhone option. For starters, Apple should only use its satellite connectivity to act as SOS beacons in areas with no cellphone reception.

Right now, it looks like this Starlink service for mobile users could be an add-on to an existing Starlink subscription, but we’ll have to wait for more details to be released if the FCC approves the request.

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