The term “always connected” has been kicked around the tech industry for a few years now. In its current state, it simply means that a device always has some form of connection to the web wherever you go. Whether it’s a phone, laptop, wearable, or even a car, always connected is the dream that these devices are always connected, all the time. The only real limitation of an “always connected” device is the coverage provided by the respective carriers.
That said, worldwide coverage isn’t quite yet a reality which means that always-connected devices aren’t necessarily connected one hundred percent of the time. According to T-Mobile, half a million square miles of the U.S. alone fall under the “dead zone” category which means that no mobile carriers have coverage in those areas. If you happen to find yourself in one of those areas, your “always connected” device is about as useless as a rock. At least with the rock, you could start a fire or maybe go hunt for dinner.
Anyway, in a surprise announcement, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert took the stage last night with Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to announce a monumental partnership that could mean the end of dead zones as we know it. As part of the Coverage: Above and Beyond initiative, SpaceX will be launching second-generation Starlink satellites in 2023 that will take advantage of T-Mobile’s mid-band 1.91 to 1.995GHz spectrum that the Un-Carrier acquired when it purchased Sprint. Sievert pointed out that most modern smartphones can already use this band and that, when rolled out, will work out of the box. The hope is that phones and data-enabled devices will be capable of switching to and from the Starlink-served cellular service seamlessly. It was a fairly long chat and it does go off into the weeds a bit but you can check out the details in the video below.
SpaceX + T-Mobile
Why it matters
This new alliance between SpaceX and T-Mobile will take some time to get up and running but the goal is to see the new satellite-to-cellular service in Beta by the end of 2023. Initially, the service will target SMS, MMS, and participating messaging apps but could eventually include voice and even limited data bandwidth and that is a big deal. Once the new satellite constellation is in place, always-connected devices could, theoretically, finally be truly connected all the time.
This matters because we are quickly moving to a place in history where connectivity is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Aside from the obvious benefits here that include safety and security for when you’re off the beaten path, nationwide and worldwide mobile networks with zero dead spots create a blanket for the on-the-go, mobile, and hybrid workforce. That means less downtime and that equates to more productivity.
Always-connected devices are still an emerging market as it pertains to laptops but we are seeing more and more LTE and 5G-enabled devices on the market. With better coverage and the ability to connect anywhere at any time, I suspect that the production of cellular-enabled devices will accelerate aggressively over the next 2-3 years and that includes Chromebooks. Even now, Google is working on giving eligible ChromeOS devices the ability to share their mobile data via a hotspot much the same way we already do with our phones. This will make Chromebooks and other laptop and tablet devices more versatile than ever before.
Side note: If you’re a Tesla owner and you’re reading this, I have some good news. Mr. Musk replied to a tweet from the Tesla Owners Silicon Valley account that yes, this connectivity will extend to Tesla owners that subscribe to the Premium Connectivity plan. Win/Win. You can read the full press release from T-Mobile here.