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    Cell phone reception thanks to Elon Musk?


    It’s the horror of modern man: getting stranded somewhere and then having no cell phone reception. Isn’t there anything that can be done? Yes, says Elon Musk, the busy Tesla founder and space entrepreneur. His space company Space-X, operator of the world’s largest satellite network, Starlink, wants to gradually place thousands of small satellites into low Earth orbit. The goal: Almost every smartphone should be able to establish a connection. This Tuesday has one Falcon 9The rocket exposed a total of 21 satellites, six of which are, so to speak, flying cell phone masts.

    There have been attempts to solve the problem for some time. Apple, for example, enables emergency communication via satellite with the iPhones 14 and 15. However, only short text messages can be sent; users also have to prepare beforehand and store emergency information, have a clear view of the sky and point their cell phone at a satellite.

    With Musk’s technology, the Starlink satellites can communicate directly with cell phones via ordinary cellular communications – known in technical jargon as direct-to-cell. Therefore, users can also use their normal smartphones without needing special antennas or chips. However, the bandwidth is initially limited here too. Initially there were only text messages, says Musk. Later, however, voice communication or even video transmission would also be possible.

    However, that will still take some time. There are currently only six satellites that have the necessary technology on board. Since these are constantly whizzing around the earth, they are only available temporarily. However, in the next few months, Musk plans to put another 840 of these satellites into orbit.

    In order for the system to cover as many areas worldwide as possible, Space-X must cooperate with the respective local mobile network operators. Musk’s partner in the USA is T-Mobile USA, the American branch of Deutsche Telekom. T-Mobile offers to enable customers of foreign partners to use the satellite service if they in turn grant access to T-Mobile customers. So far, apart from T-Mobile, there are providers from Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland on board, but no company from Germany. They all have to allow Space-X to use part of the radio spectrum that was allocated to them, since the satellites work like radio towers.

    According to Musk, they don’t have to worry about mobile phone companies endangering their own business. More than a few megabits per radio cell are not possible with the technology. So it’s more about getting a connection in remote areas so that you can make an emergency call, for example.

    Musk’s Starlink satellite constellation for internet access already works worldwide, but users need a small ground station with an antenna to access it. This is no longer necessary with satellites with direct-to-cell technology on board. But it takes a lot of satellites; in total, Space-X wants to put around 40,000 of the small artificial celestial bodies into space.

    This also provokes a lot of criticism. Because the low Earth orbit is already a real garbage dump. Another 40,000 satellites would make things even worse and possibly make it too dangerous to launch rockets into space in a few decades. Musk’s satellites are to be placed in orbits of almost 600 kilometers. This is actually close enough to the Earth that the artificial celestial bodies can be lowered into the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up in the event of malfunctions or when their useful life has expired. However, this doesn’t always work.

    This doesn’t bother Elon Musk much, as we know him, he rushed ahead; Space-X doesn’t yet have approval from the regulatory authorities for the commercial use of direct-to-cell satellites. After all, the satellites, which are currently designed to be quite bright, will soon be made darker so that they do not reflect sunlight at dusk and disturb astronomers during their observations.

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