Mike Sievert and Elon Musk in T-shirts on an open-air stage with SpaceX rockets in the background

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk


SpaceX has launched the first satellites with the capability to connect to smartphones on the ground, which will help expand coverage for T-Mobile customers. Contrast that against Apple’s existing Emergency SOS via Satellite service that uses Globalstar ground relay stations as a relay between iPhones and satellites.

T-Mobile announced its partnership with SpaceX in August 2022. The agreement lets T-Mobile use the tech company’s satellites to connect customers venturing outside the carrier’s cellular network, which reached 300 million Americans as of last October. The remaining areas not covered by T-Mobile’s network are difficult for network towers to reach, either because of geography or land-use restrictions, according to T-Mobile’s press release.

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SpaceX launched its new set of six phone-connecting satellites Wednesday morning, and T-Mobile said testing them with its mobile network will “soon begin.” This is later than expected, as a SpaceX executive said last March that the company planned to start testing the service between ground and satellite sometime in 2023. T-Mobile has already been testing the service in a lab, the carrier told CNET.

Once the service is activated, T-Mobile customers will be “connected nearly everywhere they can see the sky, and in most cases, with the phone they already have,” according to the press release. The service will start with just text messaging, though it will expand to voice and data in the coming years.

T-Mobile declined to say when the service will activate for customers and whether it will be available for all plans. The carrier noted that it hoped most of the smartphones that customers already use on the network would be compatible with the service.

T-Mobile’s rivals are also working on their own satellite solutions. AT&T has partnered with AST SpaceMobile and completed its first test using its satellites to connect a call last year. Verizon partnered with Amazon’s Project Kuiper, which launched its first test satellites in October. 

Others in the mobile industry have announced their own satellite connectivity solutions. The Motorola Defy 2 debuted last year under Bullitt’s rugged phone brand, using its proprietary satellite network solution, while Qualcomm unveiled a partnership with satellite company Iridium that folded by in November. By year’s end, only Apple’s Emergency SOS for its iPhone 14 and iPhone 15 series offered satellite connectivity among mainstream phones.

Read more: Satellite Messaging: The 2023 Phones Trend That Wasn’t (Yet)

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