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T-Mobile has partnered with SpaceX Extend your coverage through SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network. Verizon has talked about it Working with the Amazon Kuiper project Now AT&T has announced a new satellite partner.
On Tuesday, the company announced a new partnership with AST SpaceMobile, a satellite company, to use its low-Earth orbit satellites to help boost AT&T’s ground coverage. In a video about the partnership, AT&T Networks President Chris Sambar says the wireless carrier has received “conditional approval” to use some of its wireless spectrum to connect cellphones to satellites.
In the video, Sambar takes a quick look at several wide-ranging applications, from helping FirstNet’s first responder network to commercial applications like “remote farming” and “remote machinery.”
AT&T already has a satellite partnership with satellite company OneWeb It provides connections to business users of the wireless operator But it had not announced any consumer-focused satellite services.
However, Sambar points to a possible consumer plan, explaining how his mother-in-law’s drive from Virginia to Richmond to “see her kids and grandkids” involves a road that currently struggles to get coverage from “every wireless carrier.” This drive could potentially be covered by a “space-based mobile solution,” he says.
AT&T tells CNET that it plans to use the service to provide “integrated, complementary and true connectivity from satellite solutions for voice, data and video services.”
As for device support, AT&T says the service “intends to integrate with all of our customers’ devices using LTE and 5G bandwidth on our existing cellular network.” However, the operator says it’s “too early” to say whether it will charge extra for the service or roll it into customers’ existing plans.
In announcing the SpaceX deal earlier this year, T-Mobile similarly said the “vast majority of smartphones” on its network would be compatible with its satellite service, and users wouldn’t necessarily need to buy a new phone. To hit that signal
T-Mobile CEO Mike Siewert also said his company plans to add satellite access to “T-Mobile’s most popular plans,” though some older or cheaper plans may require a monthly fee to get the feature.
Verizon, while announcing its first space partner in October 2021, has not detailed its plans to connect phones to satellites. Instead, it previously told CNET that it is looking to use Amazon’s Kuiper project to “red the entire map of the United States” by providing backhaul connections to its cell towers in areas that lack fast and reliable Internet connections.
As for when AT&T and AST SpaceMobile service might appear, AST SpaceMobile has already talked about testing its “direct-to-cell satellite capabilities” in the first quarter of next year. It launched its first five commercial satellites in “late 2023”. AT&T plans to join the trial in the first quarter.
Scott Wisniewski, chief strategy officer at AST SpaceMobile, told CNET in a statement that after the satellites are launched next year, the satellite will be able to “provide intermittent broadband service in 2024.”
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