Earlier last week, U.S. carrier T-Mobile, in partnership with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, announced the carrier’s new Coverage Above and Beyond plan that will bring direct cell phone to satellite connectivity everywhere, “even in many of the most remote locations previously unreachable by traditional cell signals.”
SpaceX will use a portion of T-Mobile’s 5G spectrum, called “mid-band PCS,” to allow the new Starlink satellites to connect directly to cellphones, and even Tesla vehicles. While intriguing, the carrier partnership limits the satellite-to-phone connectivity to the U.S., with SpaceX likely needing to partner with Canadian carriers to bring the feature north.
Now, according to Google’s senior vice president Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google will support the endeavour by enabling support for smartphones to better connect to said satellite services in Android 14, and according to 9to5Google, the operating system should arrive “mid-to-late 2023.”
Wild to think about user experiences for phones that can connect to satellites. When we launched G1 in '08 it was a stretch to get 3G + Wifi working. Now we're designing for satellites. Cool! Excited to support our partners in enabling all of this in the next version of Android!
— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer) September 1, 2022
Lockheimer says that the Android team is designing Android 14 “for satellites,” and that the “user experiences for phones that can connect to satellites” will likely be very different from 4G and 5G connections. Current Android and iOS devices with the current OS would be able to connect to T-Mobile’s service once launched; however, with OS-level support with Android 14, the user experience is expected to be much better in emergency situations or in dead zone areas with no other signal.
Additionally, past rumours have indicated that Apple plans to launch some kind of satellite capability of its own in the iPhone, but so far, those rumours haven’t played out.
The Gen-2 Starlink satellites will launch aboard SpaceX’s Starship rocket in 2023, with the Coverage Above and Beyond service expected to begin later that year.