In 2025, you could travel anywhere in Australia and have great mobile service, thanks to Starlink

    Australia is the 6th-largest country in the world by total area. It boasts a land mass of approximately 7.68 million square kilometres (or about 2.97 million square miles). This vast land mass includes a wide variety of landscapes, from deserts to rainforests, mountain ranges to coastal areas, and bustling cities to remote outback regions.

    Australia is also the largest country in the Southern Hemisphere and the largest island on Earth. It’s nearly as wide as the continental United States, with the distance from the east to the west coast measuring about 4,000 kilometres (or 2,500 miles).

    Australia’s sheer size, coupled with its diverse terrain and relatively sparse population – particularly in the central and western regions – presents unique challenges for telecommunications coverage.

    While our leading telcos Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have focused on getting connectivity to where most of the population live and work, there’s a surprising amount of the country that you can travel to and have low, to no mobile phone reception.

    Australian telecommunications company, Optus recently announced a partnership with SpaceX to deliver mobile connectivity utilising SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

    To date, connecting to Starlink requires customers to purchase a Starlink dish that needs a clear view of the sky and automatically calibrates to the low-earth orbit satellites above. As with most technology, the SpaceX Starlink Satellites are going through iterations and the next generation is said to be vastly more powerful.

    If the satellites in the sky become more powerful in sending the signal, chances are the device needed on Earth to receive the signal could be much smaller. The question is, could they get to a phone-sized device by 2025, that is a massive ask.

    While neither companies go into detail on the technical pieces of this puzzle, in late 2024, Optus plan to carry SMS on Starlink and expects to offer that in more locations than ever before.

    The other aspect of Starlink service is ground stations. Ground stations transmit data to the Starlink satellites (uplink) and receive data from the satellites (downlink). When a user sends a request (for example, clicking a link on a web page), the signal goes from the user’s satellite dish to a Starlink satellite, and then from the satellite to a ground station. The ground station then sends the request to the internet, receives the response, and sends it back through the same route.

    SpaceX currently has over 140 operational Starlink ground stations around the world, and SpaceX plans to build many more in the coming years. Optus has lots of land either purchased or leased, to support their mobile towers which your mobile phone connects to today. It’s possible that some of their land could be leveraged by SpaceX to build additional ground stations, in return for the delivery of mobile service in more locations across Australia.

    As it stands, Optus provides mobile coverage to 98.5% of the Australian population through its existing network. This partnership with SpaceX is set to bridge that coverage gap, particularly in remote or hard-to-reach locations. With this collaboration, Optus and SpaceX aim to provide network coverage across the entire Australian continent.

    Optus has always thought differently about what it means to deliver connectivity to our customers, and today we proudly provide mobile coverage to 98.5% of Australia’s population through our existing network.

    However, Australia’s vastness and terrain can make it difficult for any operator to provide mobile coverage everywhere it is needed – especially in remote or hard-to-reach locations.

    Our work with SpaceX aims to bring the coverage capabilities of satellites direct to compatible mobile handsets without the need for customers to buy additional equipment.  This partnership builds on our proud history of satellite innovation in Australia.

    This is a truly innovative model for Australia – connecting satellites to standard mobile phones – and a significant evolution beyond the services SpaceX has provided in Australia to date. It will create a unique experience for Optus customers.

    Matt Williams, Optus’ Managing Director of Marketing and Revenue.

    As per the agreement, Optus will expand the reach of its customers’ mobile connectivity to include the 60% of Australia’s land mass that currently lacks mobile coverage. The company plans to roll out SpaceX’s satellite capability in phases, starting with SMS functionality in late 2024, followed by voice and data services in late 2025.

    We share Optus’ vision to improve connectivity across Australia. The connectivity pairs SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation with Optus’ mobile network to transmit directly to mobile phones across the country. We’re excited to collaborate with Optus and offer a solution to expand coverage and help keep customers connected regardless of where they live or travel,” added Dr. Spangelo.

    SpaceX’s Senior Director of Satellite Engineering, Sara Spangelo

    Pay attention to that timeline above and watch out for new 2nd generation Starlink Satellites being launched in 2024, ahead of these services being deployed. This new satellite-to-phone coverage will be extensively tested before launch, with further information on its characteristics and accessibility provided closer to availability.

    While satellite-to-phone mobile technology has been around for years, these are typically slow and require an external antenna.. what we’re talking about here is potentially very little change to the hardware design of the phones we have today, with dramatically faster mobile performance, anywhere you go in Australia.

    I was an Optus customer for 10 years (between 20 and 30), and then for the last 10 years have been with Telstra. A Starlink-powered phone that was always connected, could be enough to win me back.

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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