No Dish Required? SpaceX Uses Starlink Direct-To-Cell To Post Update On X

A 13 word X post will go down in history as the first social media post made using Starlink’s Direct-to-Cell technology. Direct-to-Cell uses existing LTE phone hardware to communicate directly with Starlink satellites, eliminating the need for a bulky Starlink antenna. The official SpaceX account posted the message, and then Elon Musk shared it on his feed.

The X post marks continued progress on the Starlink Direct-to-Cell system. Last month, SpaceX successfully sent the first text message using the system. Starlink wants to make the service available to customers later this year.

Connecting LTE phones to Starlink satellites

Starlink’s Direct-to-Cell technology allows normal, everyday LTE phones to connect directly with Starlink satellites. Starlink began launching Direct-to-Cell equipped satellites in January 2024. The satellites act like powerful cell towers in space, broadcasting an LTE signal from hundreds of miles above the Earth. In the absence of traditional cell coverage, phones will be able to pick up the LTE signal, from virtually anywhere.

Compatibility with existing phone hardware is a critical feature of Starlink’s Direct-to-Cell technology. Starlink didn’t want customers to have to buy additional gear to get connected. Any existing phone that supports LTE will work.

Direct-to-Cell release timeline

The successful post to X, using Direct-to-Cell, is an important milestone in the development of the system. Starlink has only launched a handful of compatible satellites. The vast majority of their 5,000+ active satellites won’t communicate directly with phones.

With a limited amount of Direct-to-Cell satellites in service, rollout will be gradual. According to Starlink, text messaging support will start later this year, following by voice calls, data, and IOT in 2025.

As demonstrated by the X post, the system is currently capable of sending more than just text messages. However, features beyond basic texting won’t become available to consumers until more coverage and bandwidth capacity is added. That depends almost entirely on the number of Direct-to-Cell equipped satellites in service.

Carrier partnerships

Starlink doesn’t offer cellular service, so partnerships with existing carriers is an important part of the overall system. T-Mobile was the first to announce a partnership back in August of 2022, and they have been working closely with SpaceX on the development of the Direct-to-Cell technology.

Similar partnerships now exist with Rogers in Canada, Optus in Australia, One New Zealand, KDDI in Japan, Salt in Switzerland, and Entel in Chile & Peru.

Clear sky optional?

One of SpaceX’s engineers, Ben Longmier, posted the photo above on X. According to Ben, SpaceX engineers were using Direct-to-Cell in heavy tree cover, without a very clear view of the sky. If you are familiar with Starlink’s satellite internet service and hardware, you know that it requires a clear view of the sky to work properly. With Direct-to-Cell satellites broadcasting an LTE signal, the system apparently works much better when there isn’t much clear sky above.

Game changer for remote areas

Starlink revolutionized internet access with their satellite internet service, especially in underserved and rural areas. Starlink is set to revolutionize cellular service too. With Direct-to-Cell, customers will be able to connect to LTE voice and data from virtually anywhere on Earth.

Being able to communicate is essential for safety. Backpackers, hikers, and other people exploring remote areas, far from cell service, will be able to maintain a connection to the world if they need to. For example, if someone gets injured in the wilderness, they can initiate a voice call or send a text message to emergency responders.

Previously, this kind of communication was only possible through expensive satellite communicator devices and subscriptions. Apple’s newest iPhone’s support basic emergency communication via satellite, but it’s limited to only SOS, and doesn’t allow text, voice, or data outside of an emergency.

How to get Direct-to-Cell service

If you are interested in Starlink’s Direct-to-Cell technology, you won’t be able to buy it through Starlink. It isn’t a consumer service like their satellite internet subscriptions. Instead, Starlink works with carrier partners, like T-Mobile, who will be able to offer the technology to their customers.

When Direct-to-Cell technology becomes available, you’ll have to pick a cellular service that is compatible. Currently, T-Mobile is the only carrier in the United States that is partnering with Starlink to offer the service. Details about which T-Mobile plans offer the service are not yet available. Starlink expects Direct-to-Cell to become available sometime in 2024.

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2 thoughts on “No Dish Required? SpaceX Uses Starlink Direct-To-Cell To Post Update On X”

  1. Garmin has had this technology for awhile but it requires purchase of one of their sat communicators, like an InReach Mini, etc. and a monthly subscription of around $35. You pair the InReach device with your smart phone and then you can send texts via the smart phone.

    It’s a mature technology that works well for emergency situations.

    • That’s what I use currently, a Garmin inReach Mini and a smartphone. It works really well for what it is. I wouldn’t drop it from my gear because it’s proven for SOS, and I like the idea of having a dedicated SOS beacon vs everything on one device, but texting will be a lot quicker via Direct-to-Cell. And voice/data support in 2025, which traditional satellite communicators like the inReach can’t do.


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