Not having a network on your mobile phone will perhaps be history in a few months. Elon Musk, the boss of SpaceX and Tesla, announced on August 25, 2022, the next disappearance of what are called “white zones” in the United States. However, Apple could make a comparable announcement on Wednesday September 7, 2022.
For Elon Musk, the idea is simple: add a third antenna to the new Starlink satellites to make them compatible with the frequencies that our phones already pick up. A direct link, in a way, between our smartphones and space, with these satellites in orbit 550 km above our heads. Elon Musk knows that traditional telecom operators will never cover 100% of a territory or a country: it’s too complicated, too expensive, not profitable enough. Satellites don’t care about relief and terrain. They water an entire area and it doesn’t matter if it is a lost corner, a mountain, a desert or an ocean.
To cover the whole world, you need a lot of satellites: 42,000 to be precise, that’s Starlink’s long-term goal. There are already 2,500 in orbit and the pace is frantic: with SpaceX and its launch pad in Texas, Musk launches Falcon 9 rockets when it suits him. And he rejoiced on Wednesday August 31 on Twitter: “We are now at a launch every five days“. In August alone, SpaceX carried out six launches with around 50 satellites in the fairing, with each launch. That’s about 300 more Starlink satellites in orbit in a single month.
It is not, however, the satellite models that will provide network connection to smartphones. Those are for next year because they are bigger and they need a bigger launcher too, the famous Starship rocket that Elon Musk wants to launch before the end of the year.
So why announce so soon a revolution that is not yet operational? Perhaps because the iPhone 14 – which should be official on Wednesday – could integrate a new function called “emergency message” in partnership with a competitor of Starlink, Globalstar.
This expected novelty lives up to its name and should only be used exceptionally, in case of distress, to alert the emergency services. It would not be intended to replace the services of your operator as part of your usual package.
“Save lives”this is also Elon Musk’s initial idea, of which each satellite will have a limited capacity: 2 to 4 Mbit/second to be shared, i.e. a thousand simultaneous calls, and up to 200,000 text messages.
In the United States, from Starbase, the launch pad for its rockets, the boss of SpaceX made his announcement alongside the CEO of the operator T-Mobile who promised integration of Starlink technology at no additional cost on most of its packages (excluding the first price). But Elon Musk is already talking about the idea of watching video on his smartphone using a Starlink connection. So why not an increase in flow rates…
In the meantime, the call is made to all operators around the world, to come closer to the two partners, and integrate satellite connection technology, which would allow all users – Americans and others – to benefit from reciprocal roaming, and therefore to capture the network, either via terrestrial antennas or by satellite, truly anywhere on the planet.
Apple, which sells its iPhone almost worldwide (Russia is one of the rare exceptions, since the spring) would have every reason to also aim for global availability for its technology. Apple and SpaceX (with Starlink) will therefore find themselves in head-to-head competition for the first time… while waiting for Starlink or Tesla to launch a possible smartphone, which some are already predicting.
Elon Musk and Tim Cook did not wait to see that the current is not flowing. The two men have never met. But it’s not for lack of trying. We must remember that with Tesla, Elon Musk came very close to bankruptcy in 2016, before the release of the Tesla model 3. Elon Musk had then desperately requested an appointment with the hope that Apple would buy Tesla but Tim Cook – who confirmed never having spoken to him – would not even have taken him on the phone.
Today, Tesla is worth around $1 billion on the stock market and Elon Musk is the richest man in the world. Given the history, there was no question, for him, of being upstaged by Apple, and a possible announcement around the iPhone 14 expected Wednesday, September 7, 2022.