Elon Musk just announced that the upcoming second-generation Starlink internet satellites include cellular antennas for connections with phones from T-Mobile in the US, and potentially other operators as well.
Following the event, he responded to tweets asking whether the connections will work with Tesla’s electric cars, which currently connect to AT&T’s LTE network. According to Musk, the answer is yes.
He didn’t go into detail about how it will all work or how much data owners could expect to access from the connections when they’re somewhere out of reach by terrestrial cellphone towers. Musk said during the event that the satellite-to-cellular coverage from Starlink will be capable of providing a 2 – 4 Mbps link, which is shared by everyone in the satellite’s coverage area. That likely 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,” is better than no connection, potentially.
In a comment to The Verge, LightShed 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 the carrier deal away from AT&T 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 include Premium Connectivity at no extra charge, while cars purchased before July 20th, 2022, all include at least the standard connectivity package with in-car maps and navigation. Those connections are available for the lifetime of the vehicle, “excluding retrofits or upgrades required for any features or services externally supplied to the vehicle.” Adding the Premium Connectivity subscription to a Tesla that doesn’t have it currently costs $9.99 per month, or $99 annually.
The recent shutdown of AT&T’s 3G network showed how that can come into play, as older vehicles built prior to mid-2015 without an LTE-capable modem may have required a $200 upgrade to stay connected.
For new or used electric cars purchased today from Tesla, they “will have Standard Connectivity for the remainder of the eight years from the first day your vehicle was delivered as new by Tesla, or the first day it is put into service (for example used as a demonstrator or service vehicle), whichever comes first.”
Update August 25th, 11PM ET: Added additional information about Tesla’s connectivity packages.