In a surprising development, SpaceX announced yesterday that its chief Mr. Elon Musk will hold an announcement with T-Mobile's president and chief executive officer Mr. Mike Sievert in the evening today to announce new plans for connectivity. This announcement came at a time when SpaceX is defending its satellite internet service Starlink in a crucial battle at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that will determine whether Starlink remains feasible to provide internet connectivity to Americans.
Additionally, it came within a month after SpaceX announced its intention to enter the mobile satellite service (MSS) market with Starlink - a highly unserved area that uses lower frequencies to provide simple coverage. The question remains whether T-Mobile and SpaceX will partner up to provide mobile services, and taking a look at SpaceX's latest application and spectrum already licensed to T-Mobile, this just might be the case.
Are Starlink and T-Mobile Partnering Up To Provide Connectivity Services & Compete With DISH?
SpaceX's Starlink user dishes use the 12Ghz frequency band to download data from the satellites, and the 12Ghz proceeding at the FCC is discussing whether to open this band up for terrestrial services. SpaceX asserts that if this were to happen then its Starlink terminals will face excessive interference from the new services and therefore result in severe degradation of service quality. DISH and Michael Dell's RS Access, LLC on the other hand believe that technological advances will result in little interference, as they reverse their earlier claims that terrestrial and satellite services cannot co-exist in the band.
Against this backdrop, SpaceX submitted an application to the FCC earlier this month where it sought the Commission's permission to use the 2GHz band for mobile satellite services (MSS). The interesting bit about this filing was that DISH is using the same band, officially referred to as AWS-4, to provide Voice over New Radio (VoNR) service which allows users to use smartphones for routing voice calls over a 5G network.
DISH uses three separate spectrums for this service, and this is where T-Mobile enters into the fray. For VoNR, DISH uses the AWS-4 band (2000-2020 Mhz, 2180-2200 Mhz), the Lower 700 Mhz E Block and AWS-H (1915-1920 Mhz, 1995-2000 MHz) bands.
T-Mobile. has access to the same spectrum ranges as DISH uses for its new service, with the former's allocations sitting adjacent as is the rule of thumb to avoid interference. While DISH uses the lower 700 Mhz E Block (720 - 725MHz), T-Mobile has access to 728-746 MHz for the uplink portion of its 4G LTE network. Furthermore, right next to DISH's AWS-H block is T-Mobile's 1900 Mhz allocation, which uses 1850-1910Mhz for uplink and 1930-1990Mhz for downlink.
Looking at these allocations, it's clear that the defining factor for Starlink to provide a service that is similar to DISH's is the MSS band. Should it partner up with T-Mobile (conjecture on our part), and gain FCC's MSS approval, then it will be in a position to compete with DISH in a market that the latter just started to develop and has had its sights set on for expanding into mobile connectivity.
T-Mobile rolled out its VoNR service in limited areas earlier this year, and just like DISH's VoNR service, dubbed Project Genesis, it also works with only a couple of smartphones, and vendor adoption is crucial for new telecommunications technologies.
SpaceX's narrative for the MSS application remained vague about the details of its plans, and simply stated that:
The 20 x 20 MHz of MSS spectrum available in the 2 GHz band will support a range of mobile satellite services, enabling SpaceX to craft a compelling array of offerings to address the connectivity needs of Americans. Due to its low altitudes, SpaceX’s 2 GHz MSS system will provide service with latency below 50 milliseconds, which is nearly unnoticeable to consumers. This system will ensure that all Americans—even those in Polar Regions—enjoy the same low- latency mobile services. And consumers are not the only beneficiaries of this improved service. For many Federal users, satellite service is the only communications option to support critical missions. Improving capacity and latency for these users could have significant national security benefits. All of these services are in the public interest.
Relations between T-Mobile and DISH have been thorny as well, as the latter has vehemently protested the former's decision to shut down Sprint's CDMA network and analysts have also estimated that DISH might have to invest another $5 billion to develop its 5G network.
Makes us wonder if the vagueness was deliberate and in anticipation of today's announcement. Yet, only after Elon Musk takes the stage later today we'll be able to know for sure what his company is cooking. The event will take place at 7 P.M. Central Time later today and will be broadcast on SpaceX's YouTube channel.
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