Optus, Australia’s second largest telco, will use Space X’s low latency satellite constellation to provide mobile connectivity to 100% of Australia 

Optus’s terrestrial mobile network coverage currently covers 98.5% of Australia’s population (around 25.5 million people). However, due to Australia’s unique geography, the vast majority of these people are located in a small number of dense urban centres, such as Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, leaving vast swathes of the outback largely untouched by mobile connectivity. In fact, around 60% of the country’s landmass has no mobile connectivity at all. 

Covering these relatively unpopulated areas with terrestrial networks is economically unviable, hence operators are looking to emerging technologies to help solve this challenge.  

That is why Optus has this week partnered with SpaceX, aiming to make use of the latter’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation Starlink to provide direct-to-mobile connectivity to consumers in hard-to-reach areas.  

“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,” said Matt Williams, Marketing and Revenue Managing Director at Optus. 

“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. 

Testing of the satellite-to-phone service is underway, with the connectivity services be rolled out in stages, SMS services beginning in late 2024, and data and voice services the following year. 

“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,” added Williams. 

The deal comes just weeks after Optus’s largest rival, Telstra, also signed a Starlink deal. However, as opposed to direct-to-mobile coverage, Telstra’s partnership with the satellite operator will focus on providing fixed broadband services. 

Starlink currently has around 4,000 satellites orbiting Earth at a height of around 550km, with the aim of increasing this number to 12,000 in the near future.  

How is the growth of the LEO satellite industry impacting the global telecoms sector? Join the operators in discussion at this year’s Total Telecom Congress live in Amsterdam 

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