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FCC raises questions about SpaceX’s application to link cell phones to Starlink

The FCC has responded to SpaceX’s application to link cell phones to Starlink with a set of questions, mostly centered on finding out whether the company’s system might interfere with other communications systems.

“This analysis should take into account the worst case scenario of all satellites transmitting at the same time, including different power levels required for rain fade and cloud cover as well as clear sky conditions over a particular area of coverage,” the FCC wrote.

In addition, the same analysis should look at the “possibility of loss of service by other authorized satellite and terrestrial operators in that area,” the Commission added. Another request asks SpaceX to provide “a map with projected beam coverage” for the US, showing the maximum and typical power levels of the satellite cellular service. The FCC also wants to know how the company can shut down the cellular Starlink system in the event interference arises over certain geographic areas.

The FCC’s concerns appear reasonable, but no one should dismiss the possibility that politics are involved as well. The Biden administration, which now has a majority of appointees on the FCC, has made it clear it opposes almost everything Elon Musk is doing.

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  • Blackwing1

    What would be amusing (if it weren’t so terrifying) about the federal government’s attempts to destroy Starlink, SpaceX, and Musk himself, is that it is decidedly two-minded.

    On the one hand you’ve got the various and sundry three-letter agencies all trying to shut down the space-centered activities including (but certainly not limited to) the FCC, the FAA, the F&W.

    And on the other hand you’ve got the DoD handing them a contract for military satellite launches.

    If they do succeed in shutting down SpaceX launches for utterly bogus reasons (the Fish & Wildlife one would be hysterical if it weren’t for real) what’ll the military do for a launching system?

  • GeorgeC

    A thousand phased array systems all in line of sight to a given point, fixed or moving, does have dual use applications in SIGINT or jamming. Pretty obvious.

  • John Fisher

    This actually does appear to be in the FCC’s swim lane. As the system has to use the same frequencies as the terrestrial network and the satellite has to have a pretty high gain antenna to make this work, the possibility of significant interference is real. AST, who is planning a similar service, has launched a test satellite with a 64 sq meter array.

  • Ferris


    A military that is foolish enough to work on replacing vehicles powered by fossil fuels with vehicles powered by batteries is foolish enough to eliminate any successful options for launching military satellites.

    Never underestimate the power of stupidity.

  • Gary

    At this point multiple federal agencies, in sequential order, are going to object to anything SpaceX proposes.

  • Dennis P Keating

    The concerns do appear to be reasonable. But given the regulators need to regulate, I think their biggest concern is that it might interfere with the FCC’s interference of commerce for their own power.

  • MDN

    The FCC interest is indeed legitimate, but at the same time irrelevant. America is a first world state and terrestrial infrastructure already delivers excellent cell service to 95% of our population.

    The real market for Starlink to Cell connectivity are 3rd world states who have virtually no terrestrial infrastructure. Think sub-Saharan Africa and Indonesia where some 1.5B still live with almost no modern connectivity. THIS is an emerging market that Starlink will dominate, much through national government subsidies I imagine to help bootstrap their nations into the global economy. And that positions Elon to exploit his PayPal experience, digital infrastructure expertise (witness Tesla and SpaceX automated operations), and social media platform X to expand Starlink into an integrated comm services provider surpassing even Amazon.

    And THAT is why Bezos is starting to finally shake things up a bit at Blue Origin as I expect he is now realizing just how behind the curve his golden goose really is. I wish him luck, but he does not have Musk’s dynamic range and strategic planning skills. But in the end competition is always a good thing and will prove useful to keep Musk honest.

    In the end though it is Huawei and the Chicoms who will be his biggest rival as they will blatantly steal all the tech and copy SpaceX. But no one moves as fast as SpaceX and Musk is operating inside their OODA loop, so they will be very hard pressed to catch up.

    My 27 cents worth anyway. : )

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