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Satellite messaging could be coming to T-Mobile users on Android 15

Some T-Mobile subscribers are being told they’re eligible to send and receive text messages by satellite
By

Published onMay 16, 2024

Android satellite messaging settings
Mishaal Rahman / Android Authority
TL;DR
  • T-Mobile users who upgraded to the latest Android 15 beta have discovered a page that tells them whether their account is eligible for satellite messaging.
  • This page was first spotted in an Android beta release over two months ago, but its rollout to users today confirms the inclusion of satellite messaging support in Android 15.
  • T-Mobile is partnering with Starlink to enable satellite messaging on existing devices.

Satellite connectivity in smartphones has been a hot topic ever since Apple introduced it in the iPhone 14 series. There’s a lot of work that goes into enabling satellite connectivity on a mobile device, which is why progress has been slow on the Android side of things. Fortunately, it’s looking more and more likely that we’ll see phones running Android 15 ship with satellite connectivity support.

In a previous Android beta release, we spotted a hidden satellite messaging page that we believed would tie into T-Mobile and SpaceX’s satellite messaging service. With the release of the second Android 15 beta this week, though, several T-Mobile users have found that this page has gone live for them.

Most forms of satellite connectivity require new hardware, which is a big reason why so few smartphones support the feature right now. The lack of an industry standard on how to connect smartphones to satellites also hasn’t helped adoption, as it’s led to hardware vendors creating their own proprietary solutions, further increasing the integration cost for smartphone makers. Some satellite connectivity providers are planning to offer direct-to-cell phone service, though, which doesn’t require any sort of specialized hardware.

T-Mobile and SpaceX, for example, have been collaborating to bring satellite messaging to existing LTE-capable phones since 2022, with the latter successfully launching and testing Starlink satellites that are “Direct to Cell” capable. The two companies even announced plans to roll out satellite connectivity support this year, starting with text messages. Thus, it’s only a matter of weeks or months until T-Mobile subscribers can send text messages via satellite.

In preparation for this launch, Google has created a new “Satellite Messaging” page in Android 15’s settings. The page tells users how they can “send and receive text messages by satellite as part of an eligible […] account.” Texts aren’t limited to emergency services, too, as the page explicitly notes that you can “text anyone” so long as your phone is connected to a satellite. In order to get the best connection with a satellite, your phone needs to have “a clear view of the sky” because “weather and certain structures may affect your satellite connection.”

When we first discovered Android’s “Satellite Messaging” page in Android 14 QPR3 Beta 2, I couldn’t get it to appear in settings, so I had to manually launch it. Because of that, some of the text was blank, such as wherever the name of the carrier is supposed to be shown. Under the hood, though, I discovered that the buttons to “add satellite messaging” to your account or learn “more about satellite messaging” were coded to open a page on T-Mobile’s website. This page wasn’t (and still isn’t) live, but it did suggest that Android was gearing up to support T-Mobile and SpaceX’s satellite messaging service.

With the release of Android 15 Beta 2 earlier this week, though, the Android’s “Satellite Messaging” page has started to go live for T-Mobile users. Several users on Reddit’s T-Mobile community report that they’re now able to access “Satellite Messaging” under Settings > Network & Internet > SIMs > T-Mobile in Android 15 Beta 2. Reddit user erichola, who says they’re on T-Mobile’s Magenta plan, shared a screenshot from their Pixel 7 showing that satellite messaging is included with their account.

Satellite Messaging page in Android 15 Beta 2
Mishaal Rahman / Android Authority
Credits: Reddit user erichola

Another user, Redditor jonathan3579, shared a screenshot from their Pixel 8 Pro showing the service is also available for them, though they’re subscribed to a “converted SWAC (Sprint Wireless Advantage Club)” plan and not Magenta. Interestingly, one user who says they’re on a Magenta MAX military plan was told they don’t have satellite messaging included with their plan. It’s unclear which plans will be eligible for satellite messaging, but we’d wager that only the best T-Mobile plans will be.

Since T-Mobile and SpaceX haven’t actually publicly launched satellite messaging yet, it’s unlikely these users will be able to send text messages via satellite right now. They’d likely need to also wait for an update to roll out to the Google Messages app to enable its satellite messaging support. We’re also waiting on the satellite pointing UI that guides users to point their phone towards a nearby satellite, though this likely won’t roll out until the launch of the Google Pixel 9 series later this year.

If you’re not on T-Mobile, then you’ll likely have to wait a bit longer to send text messages via satellite from your Android phone. If you’re on AT&T, fortunately, you won’t have to look at your friends on T-Mobile with envy for too long. Earlier today, AT&T announced a commercial agreement with AST SpaceMobile to build a satellite-based cellular network of its own, much like the one that’s soon to be launched by T-Mobile. It’s likely that Google designed Android’s “Satellite Messaging” page to be generic, only surfacing it when the carrier configuration returns that it’s offered, so the page we’re seeing today should also appear for AT&T subscribers in the future.

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