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Elon Musk’s Starlink in Talks to Transform Rural Connectivity

Rural businesses could soon thrive with direct satellite connections boosting mobile coverage

In a groundbreaking move, rural businesses across the UK could soon enjoy unprecedented connectivity as Elon Musk’s Starlink enters talks to extend its satellite network services. EE mobile customers in remote areas may soon be able to connect directly to Starlink's satellites, addressing longstanding signal blackspots and revolutionising rural connectivity.

BT, the parent company of EE, has inked a trial agreement with Starlink to use its extensive network of low-Earth orbit satellites to transmit calls, texts, and data to mobile masts. This development promises a significant upgrade, with plans to beam mobile signals directly to smartphones, ensuring seamless communication even in the most isolated locations.

This innovative service would empower rural businesses, allowing them to make calls and access mobile data wherever they are. Farmers, remote office workers, and small enterprises in countryside areas could operate with the same efficiency as their urban counterparts, unlocking new economic opportunities and fostering growth.

However, sources indicate that these discussions are still in the early stages, with a few years to go before the technology becomes a reality.

Starlink has already taken significant steps to establish a satellite-powered mobile network in the UK, filing an application with regulator Ofcom to expand its network of ground terminals. This move has ignited a competitive race among mobile network operators eager to secure an exclusive partnership with Starlink.

Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) has already partnered with Starlink to enhance rural connectivity, leveraging satellite technology where fibre cables are impractical or prohibitively expensive. Liberty Global, the owner of VMO2 alongside Telefonica, is also reportedly in discussions with Starlink for a Europe-wide deal, aiming to bring similar benefits to rural businesses across the continent.

The latest models of smartphones, including the Apple iPhone, are equipped to connect directly to satellites. However, mobile operators have approached this technology cautiously, aware of the potential competitive landscape it could create.

Talks between Starlink and BT were first revealed by The Telegraph, highlighting their discussions about a satellite home broadband service to deliver internet to remote areas. Starlink’s impressive network of nearly 6,000 satellites orbits approximately 350 miles above the Earth, providing robust signals to satellite dishes for homes and businesses.

Currently, Starlink is trialling direct-to-mobile technology with basic text messaging functions, which is expected to expand to include data and calls. This advancement could be a game-changer for rural businesses, eliminating the so-called signal “not spots” that hinder operations in remote areas.

While direct-to-mobile services are not yet authorised in the UK, Ofcom is expected to launch a call for evidence on this technology in the coming months. This issue has gained urgency due to delays in a £1bn government project aimed at upgrading rural mobile signals, known as the Shared Rural Network.

Mobile firms have warned they will miss an initial deadline at the end of next month, but ministers have not granted an extension, heightening the need for alternative solutions like Starlink’s satellite technology.

Starlink is one of several companies harnessing satellite technology to enhance telecom services in the most remote parts of the world. The UK government-backed OneWeb is trialling similar technology, while Vodafone has invested in satellite firm AST Space Mobile.

For rural businesses, these advancements signify a new era of connectivity, enabling them to thrive and compete on a level playing field with their urban counterparts.


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