Spectrum Assessment: T-Mobile and SpaceX’s New Service, Coverage Above and Beyond

Here's what we know about the spectrum that will support T-Mobile and SpaceX's new joint program, Coverage Above and Beyond.

T-Mobile and SpaceX recently announced a new joint program, Coverage Above and Beyond, which aims to provide universal mobile coverage by using Starlink satellites to connect areas that have previously been unreachable by terrestrial cell towers. 

About the frequency band
T-Mobile plans to allocate a portion of its PCS spectrum holdings for use by Starlink, pending FCC approval to operate Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) in a non-MSS band. T-Mobile currently holds ~96% of available licenses for the PCS band G-block (Downlink 1990-1995 MHz; Uplink 1910-1915 MHz) in the United States, with the remaining 4% being leased by T-Mobile to regional mobile operators¹. This nationwide PCS spectrum, originally owned by Clearwire and later Sprint, will likely play a key role in making this service viable in the United States. 

The new service offered by T-Mobile and SpaceX is not expected to be available until at least late 2023, when Starlink launches its second generation satellites that will include an antenna array to connect to mobile devices. In the meantime, Aurora Insight’s LEO-based RF sensing satellites can observe how this frequency band is currently being used throughout the U.S. to gain a better understanding of wireless activity.  

Below, we show how the downlink, 1990-1995 MHz, has been deployed by T-Mobile using data collected by Aurora Insight’s satellites in July 2022. Red indicates a stronger signal, and  a significant number of base stations are using that band. 

Aurora Insight’s RFMap of detected power  in the PCS G-block from July 2022
Data collected by Aurora Insight's Satellites in July 2022

Aurora Insight is continually mapping the global RF environment and will monitor changes to PCS spectrum as the new service unfolds. If T-Mobile and SpaceX use the PCS G-block spectrum to connect Starlink satellites to T-Mobile subscribers on the ground, our measurements will likely show a gradual decrease in power as terrestrial transmitters stop using this block to avoid interference with the satellite system. 

Global use of this frequency band
The joint announcement by the two companies also included an open invitation to cell carriers around the world to join the program. While T-Mobile owns exclusive rights to the 1910-1915/1990-1995 MHz band in the U.S., neither T-Mobile nor Starlink currently have a license to operate in this band in other countries. Following the announcement by T-Mobile and SpaceX, our satellite data confirmed that this frequency band (1910-1915/1990-1995 MHz) is currently being used in other areas of the world. 

What’s next?
T-Mobile and SpaceX are not alone in trying to connect unmodified cell phones to satellites — other players, such as Lynk and AST SpaceMobile have been developing similar technology, forming partnerships with global MNOs, and launching satellites and payloads to demonstrate their ability to connect to mobile phones from orbit. Starlink has also submitted filings to use MSS spectrum in the United States in hopes of developing its own direct-to-cell service. 

However, this new and nascent application of radio frequency spectrum still has many hurdles to cross before direct-to-device connectivity becomes a reality. By monitoring changes in spectrum deployments with space and terrestrial sensors, Aurora Insight is well-positioned to provide key insights on mobile networks around the world as these new technologies are launched.

1. Spectrum Omega. https://specmap.sequence-omega.net/

Why Choose Aurora Insight for Spectrum Measurement



With the ability to cover vast areas over a short period of time, measuring wireless activity from space is the most efficient method for collecting spectral data.



By covering hard-to-reach areas where drive-testing is often unavailable, our method of satellite-based data collection provides holistic view of global wireless activity.  



Our data collection is completely independent of networks and requires no input from third parties, unlike many crowd-sourced data sets. 

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