SpaceX is seeking to clear regulatory hurdles with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  for its satellite-to-phone service with T-Mobile US ahead of an expected launch in 2023.

On 6 December SpaceX filed an application with the FCC to orbit more than 2,016 second-generation, low-earth birds for a direct-to-cellular system that would feature advanced phased array beam-forming and digital processing technologies onboard.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the service with T-Mobile US CEO Mike Sievert in August with a scheme that included a beta test in the latter half of 2023. The two executives touted the service’s capability to reduce cellular dead zones across the US.

The FCC filing stated the plan includes using the operator’s nationwide mid-band PCS spectrum to provide voice, messaging and basic web browsing with theoretical top speeds of 3 Mb/s or 7 Mb/s on the uplink and either 4.4 Mb/s or 18.3 Mb/s on the downlink.

It also noted the service would work on unmodified off-the-shelf mobile phones, and that it would be available across the contiguous United States, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and areas of Alaska.

There isn’t a timeline for when SpaceX and the operator might be granted approvals by the FCC.

Competitive space
SpaceX and T-Mobile aren’t the only providers looking to offer satellite-to-phone services. Satellite player AST SpaceMobile plans to test its service with mobile operators over the coming months.

It has agreements in place with operators including AT&T, Bell Canada, MTN Group, Orange, Telefonica, Etisalat and Indosat Ooredoo Hutchison, among others.

Lynk Global, SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb are each targeting opportunities with a growing range of device makers enabling existing – or adding the relevant – connectivity.

Apple launched a satellite-based emergency text service on iPhone 14 models in November after making a $450 million investment through its Advanced Manufacturing Fund.