After hinting to a technology alliance earlier this week, Elon Musk has announced a new venture that will involve a partnership with U.S. telecom company T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS). The plan aims to eliminate "dead zones" by using large antennae on SpaceX's (SPACE) second generation of Starlink (STRLK) satellites to transmit directly to consumer cell phones. Most current smartphones will work with the new service, which is expected to be included for free on T-Mobile's (TMUS) most popular monthly plans.
Specifics: "This won't have the kind of bandwidth a Starlink terminal will have, but this will enable texting, it will enable images and if there aren't too many people in the cell zone, you can even potentially have a little bit of video," according to Musk. "We will no longer read about these tragedies that happened where people got lost and if only they could have called for help they'd be okay."
Hurdles remain as the FCC still needs to sign off on SpaceX's (SPACE) use of T-Mobile's (TMUS) wireless spectrum. Musk is also known to tout grandiose visions way before a project can be rolled out to the market, like Tesla's network of autonomous taxis, timelines of the Semi and Cyber trucks, installing 1,000 solar roofs per week, mass transit tunnels, etc. This time around, texting services in the beta phase of the Starlink/T-Mobile plan are only expected to roll out by the end of next year, and much can happen before then.
Outlook: Whether or not the cell service gets off the ground, Starlink (STRLK) is handily outpacing its rivals. Facebook abandoned plans for its Aquila solar-powered internet drones in 2018, while Alphabet pulled the pin on internet balloon project Loon last year. The future definitely seems to belong to low-Earth-orbiting satellites, though Amazon's (AMZN) Project Kuiper is mostly on paper and competitor OneWeb has only launched 218 satellites (compared to the 3,000 that are currently supporting the Starlink network). AST SpaceMobile (ASTS) is also building a global cellular broadband network in space, but its first scheduled launch will only happen in September.