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SpaceX and T-Mobile's Starlink-based satellite cell coverage moves one step closer

Starlink, SpaceX's network of satellites in low Earth orbit, has ambitious plans with T-Mobile to bring full cell service to less-populated areas where customers have previously struggled to connect. SpaceX demonstrated this technology on Tuesday with a video call.

In the demo, two SpaceX employees test the technology with a video call using the video-calling feature of X, formerly Twitter. It's the first such call that uses Starlink's Direct to Cell satellite service, a project that SpaceX has been working with T-Mobile to build since 2022.

While no official launch date has been announced for the service, SpaceX said in a tweet that the company is "excited to go live with T-Mobile later this year."

Representatives for SpaceX and T-Mobile didn't respond immediately to requests for comment.

The demo was run on unmodified smartphones. That means consumers likely won't need specialized tools or a new phone to use the service when it eventually rolls out. This fulfills T-Mobile's original promise that "the vast majority of smartphones already on T-Mobile's network will be compatible."

For the time being, SpaceX has been using T-Mobile's PCG G Block bands to perform its testing as per the company's FCC filings.

In January, SpaceX launched the first six phone-connecting satellites into orbit. T-Mobile said at the time that testing for the network would begin shortly thereafter.

The telecom company originally partnered with SpaceX in order to cover dead zones in its coverage. In some areas -- particularly in the rural parts of the US -- putting in cell service is expensive, difficult or both. With satellites, T-Mobile hopes to finish covering all the remaining half-million square miles of the nation that few cell services can reach.

T-Mobile isn't the only one working on this problem. AT&T has partnered with AST SpaceMobile to accomplish the same task while Verizon joined up with Amazon's Project Kuiper. Verizon also has satellites in orbit that are in active testing with its network. Chipmaker Qualcomm also attempted such a service, but it ended its deal with Iridium in November 2023.

So far, T-Mobile and SpaceX are the only pair with an active demo that can be viewed online. Some phone users even have been seeing the option pop up on Pixel phones running the Android 15 beta. It puts the two tech giants ahead in the race to cover dead zones in the US.