The agreement is unique because it will not require customers to obtain any specific hardware and will instead work on all compatible handsets.
Currently, the telco’s traditional service is unavailable across 60 per cent of Australia’s landmass, but the new tie-up will boost connectivity to almost 100 per cent.
It significantly comes after rival Telstra signed its own deal with the Elon Musk-owned space company to provide satellite internet to regional areas.
The telco’s head of marketing, Matt Williams, said the agreement meant it would provide mobile coverage to 98.5 per cent of Australia’s population through its existing network.
“Australia’s vastness and terrain can make it difficult for any operator to provide mobile coverage everywhere it is needed – especially in remote or hard-to-reach locations,” he said.
“Our work with SpaceX aims to bring the coverage capabilities of satellites direct to compatible mobile handsets without the need for customers to buy additional equipment. This partnership builds on our proud history of satellite innovation in Australia.
“This is a truly innovative model for Australia – connecting satellites to standard mobile phones – and a significant evolution beyond the services SpaceX has provided in Australia to date. It will create a unique experience for Optus customers.”
The phased rollout of SpaceX’s satellite capability will start with SMS in late 2024, with voice and data following in late 2025.
Optus and Telstra’s separate deals will be yet another blow to NBN’s Sky Muster service, which has reportedly seen its user numbers drop by more than 10,000.
Sky Muster operates using two traditional geostationary satellites compared to Starlink’s huge constellation of 4,000 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
Loretta Willaton, Telstra’s regional Australia executive, wrote in a blog post, “One of the benefits of LEO satellites are that they are much closer than geostationary satellites to Earth with multiple satellites that are a part of a constellation, allowing them to send and receive signals much faster.
“As well as offering great data throughput, the proximity of these satellites reduces latency making them a great and more consistent option for services that need low latency, like voice and video calls.
“The latency, download speeds, and general experience in most circumstances will be far superior to copper-based ADSL and be better suited for most modern connectivity needs.
“Our team has been testing out in the field Starlink’s service and how we can best offer it to customers, including evolving our own modem specifically to support Starlink connectivity and Aussie households.”
Willaton said Telstra would unveil details of its pricing models later this year when the deal will be available to customers.
Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
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