SpaceX files FCC request to put payloads on satellites for direct-to-cell system with T-Mobile

Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX filed a request with the Federal Communications Commission to put payloads on 2,016 of its satellites for its direct-to-cell system with T-Mobile. In August, SpaceX and T-Mobile announced a partnership to end mobile dead zones by connecting T-Mobile phones with Starlink in late 2023.

In the documents shared by CNBC’s Micheal Sheetz, SpaceX said that its direct-to-cellular system would consist of a German-licensed hosted payload flown on a subset of 2,016 of its Gen 2 non-geostationary orbit (NGSO).


SpaceX will deploy the system on up to 72 satellites per plane and noted this os of the 120 satellites per plane in the amended Gen2 System Orbital Parameters. It will also deploy them on up to a total of 28 planes at 53 and 43-degree inclinations. In total, there will be a range of 80-100 satellites serving the U.S. and its territories.

Once fully deployed, SpaceX will be able to provide full and continuous coverage of the earth within +58 degrees to -58 degrees latitude by the middle of 2024. SpaceX noted that the direct-to-cellular system will use advanced phased array beam-forming and digital process technology onboard each satellite payload.

This will enable the service to efficiently use spectrum resources and provide voice, messaging, and basic web browsing at “theoretical peak speeds of up to either 3.0 Mbps or 7.2 Mbps peak upload.”

The filings also reveal a key reason behind SpaceX’s purchase of Swarm. SpaceX purchased Swarm, which had been building a constellation of 150 satellites, in 2021. SpaceX said that it is seeking to leverage its existing space resources to provide an “even more ubiquitous connectivity option” for Americans.

It has a goal of “global affordable connectivity” that includes the proposed direct-to-cellular system for LTE devices such as cell phones “which follows SpaceX’s expansion into the mobile services arena with its acquisition of Swarm Technologies, Inc. (Swarm), a company authorized to deploy and operate 150 small NGSO satellites designed to provide narrowband services in the 137-138 MHZ and 1480150.5 very-high frequency Mobile Satellite Service bands.”

SpaceX also added that Swarm had already launched most of its authorized satellites and is offering services to customers in various sectors such as transportation, maritime, and energy.

“The combination of direct-to-cellular and the Swarm IoT connectivity solutions truly encompass all ranges of data rates and power levels for devices around the world,” the filing stated.

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Johnna Crider: Johnna Crider is a Baton Rouge writer covering Tesla, Elon Musk, EVs, and clean energy & supports Tesla's mission. Johnna also interviewed Elon Musk and you can listen here
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