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SpaceX’s launch of direct-to-cell satellites for T-Mobile pushes wireless into a new frontier

SpaceX launch of direct-to-cell satellites for T-Mobile pushes wireless into a new frontier
SpaceX satellite launches are putting wireless communications within everyone's reach.
Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. Follow him at JeffKagan.com and on Twitter @jeffkagan.
Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. Follow him at JeffKagan.com and on Twitter @jeffkagan.

Discover: Though it was only for emergency and location use, Apple’s iPhone 14 is credited as the world’s first satellite smartphone. But only a little more than a year later, the field is already starting to get crowded.

Inspire: Satellite connectivity, particularly satellite internet, has the potential to reach across the globe and into remote areas where traditional telecommunications infrastructure is difficult to construct. That, in turn, could provide a host of benefits, including boosts to education in underserved areas.

Equities’ view: Apple was the first to get there, and its technology (which found a way to make its iPhone case double as a satellite antenna) could still be a big part of growing satellite wireless world. But other players including Amazon, Globalstar and SpaceX itself, should it go public, are in the mix. T-Mobile’s move puts pressure on AT&T and Verizon to keep up.

Invest: Unless cable TV and telephone companies jump in quickly, this entire marketplace could shift as rapidly as the wireless smartphone space did when Apple iPhone and Google Android entered, sending BlackBerry and Motorola to the back of the pack, Jeff Kagan writes. Here are more of his thoughts.

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Wireless is going satellite. Yesterday, wireless was analog voice. Today, it is digital for wireless data. Tomorrow, it will be satellite. The satellite journey seems to have started last year with Apple and its emergency satellite connectivity. Now T-Mobile is partnering with SpaceX and jumping into the satellite realm too. 

Apple AAPL started this ball rolling a little more than a year ago by using Globalstar GSAT service for their Emergency SOS service. This gave them a competitive advantage, for a while anyway, in the smartphone segment by being first. The iPhone 14’s historic milestone.

Next, T-Mobile TMUS will have a competitive advantage against AT&T and Verizon VZ when they recently announced their SpaceX satellite service. 

Satellites will play an increasing role in wireless

Investors, customers and competitors all want to know what this means for the wireless industry going forward and who will the real, long-term winners be. Don’t assume just because Apple is first, they will continue to lead. Remember, they were the first to introduce Siri. While that still works, competitors like Google and others have sailed past Siri. So, we will have to keep an eye on this satellite / wireless marketplace going forward.

Satellites are now moving into the wireless space with a growing number of competitors and services. Some of these players include SpaceX and Starlink with Elon Musk, Amazon with Jeff Bezos and Globalstar with Paul Jacobs, previously with Qualcomm. 

We are seeing the wireless industry rapidly embrace several new technologies hoping to start new growth waves. Satellite is one of them. Fixed Wireless Access or FWA is another. 

FWA wireless home Internet offered by wireless industry

FWA is what wireless carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, US Cellular, C-Spire and others use to sell wireless home Internet. I expect this may also be a technology used by the cable television industry to offer wireless broadband over their wireless operations called Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile, Optimum, Cox Mobile and others.

To protect themselves, it is necessary the wireless and telecom industry are expanding beyond their traditional and core services. Both cable TV and telephone companies need to offer this kind of service because they are both losing traditional market share. Cable TV and broadband face mounting threats.

Something has to change. So, if this new technology is being offered by new competitors, why can’t cable TV and telephone companies take this same path?

That being said, new technology and competitors are really capturing the imagination of the marketplace. They are winning market share.

So, unless cable TV and telephone companies really jump in quickly, this entire marketplace could shift as rapidly as the wireless smartphone space did when Apple iPhone and Google Android entered, sending Blackberry and Motorola to the back of the pack. 

How quickly can Starlink, SpaceX and Globalstar enter the marketplace?

This is the real threat, challenge and growth opportunity faced by every competitor at the same time. Who will act, is the next question.

There is a real competitive battle brewing which has already begun and the next several years should be a volatile time in the marketplace. 

It will be very interesting to watch how this new industry unfold. The real question is, who will win, who will lose and who will be left behind as the growth curve leaves them in the dust?