Elon Musk just announced that the upcoming second-generation Starlink Internet satellites will include cellular antennas for connections to T-Mobile phones in the US, and possibly other operators as well.
After the event, he responded to tweets asking if the connections will work with Tesla’s electric cars, which currently connect to AT&T’s LTE network. According to Muskthe answer is yes.
He didn’t go into detail about how it will all work or how much data owners can expect to access the connections when they’re somewhere out of reach of terrestrial cell towers. Musk said at the event that Starlink’s satellite-to-cellular coverage will be able to provide a 2-4 Mbps connection, shared by everyone in the satellite’s coverage area. That probably won’t be enough for some premium connectivity features, like live streaming video from your car’s cameras. Still, a connection that works at all, “anywhere you have a view of the sky”, better than no connection, is possible.
In a comment to The edgeLightShed Partners Analyst Walter Piecyk pointed out that enabling access could work similarly to an MVNO like Google Fi, which uses multiple carriers as its backbone, or that Musk could change AT&T’s carrier deal in the future.
Over the years, Tesla has scaled back the connectivity packages that come standard with its electric vehicles. As explained here, cars purchased before the end of June 2018 will include Premium Connectivity at no additional cost, while cars purchased before July 20, 2022 will all include at least the standard connectivity package with in-car maps and navigation. Those connections are available for the life of the vehicle, “excluding retrofits or upgrades required for features or services delivered externally to the vehicle.” Adding the Premium Connectivity plan to a Tesla that does not have it currently costs $9.99 per month, or $99 per year.
The recent shutdown of AT&T’s 3G network showed how that could play a role, as older vehicles built before mid-2015 without an LTE-compatible modem may have Need a $200 upgrade to stay connected.
For new or used electric cars purchased from Tesla today, they have “Standard Connectivity for the remainder of the eight years from the first day your vehicle is delivered as new by Tesla, or the first day it is put into service ( for example as a demonstration or service vehicle), whichever comes first.”
Update August 25, 11:00 PM ET: Added additional information about Tesla’s connectivity packages.