Remember last year when SpaceX and T-Mobile announced that they are working on a way to beam data directly to your phone from space satellites? That service will launch next year, but it will have a gradual rollout of capabilities.
This means that in 2024 only texting will be supported as a sort of trial run to iron out all the kinks. Then in 2025 the company plans to start offering voice and data service, plus IoT functions.
Note that the connection will be done over LTE and it’s not clear how much bandwidth will be available. The data service will be fast enough for web browsing, says SpaceX. Even basic texting will be indispensable for emergencies – Apple jumped through a lot of hoops to get that working (Qualcomm is working on a solution for Android).
Unlike Apple’s solution, however, Starlink’s Direct To Cell service will not require any special hardware – new satellites will essentially work like cell towers (except ones that fly around in space rather than being mounted on a nearby building). This should mean that with a clear view of the sky any 4G capable phone (and other kinds of devices) will be able to connect. It will start with using whichever app you currently use for texts, but once the data service is active you will be able to use any app (WhatsApp, Skype and even iMessage).
Starlink has signed deals with multiple carriers around the world: Optus in Australia, Rogers in Canada, KDDI in Japan, One NZ in New Zealand, Salt in Switzerland and T-Mobile in the USA. More will probably join by the time the service is fully up and running.
Note that Starlink only aims to cover land, lakes and coastal waters – if you want Internet in the middle of the ocean, you will need to sign up for Starlink’s maritime service. On land this will fill in gaps in the carriers’ coverage without them having to build out more infrastructure.
Also, it’s not clear if roaming will be available and to what extent since each country keeps a tight control on wireless frequencies, which is also why SpaceX is partnering with carriers (they paid a lot of money for a slice of the wireless spectrum).