Just a week after Telstra announced its world-first partnership with SpaceX’s Starlink, rival telco Optus has signed its own groundbreaking deal with the satellite service. Optus is set to collaborate with Starlink to deliver increased mobile connectivity in regional Australia, with the view to eventually deliver mobile coverage to 100% of the population.
Using Starlink’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite technology, Optus will extend its current mobile coverage to rural and remote areas that aren’t yet covered by the telco’s existing network. The deal will enable Optus to offer services in hard-to-reach locations by using satellite signals to connect devices, rather than traditional mobile towers.
What does an Optus and Starlink deal mean for regional Australia?
Optus’ mobile network currently reaches about 98.5% of Australians, and joins Telstra and Vodafone in covering around 40% of the country’s land mass. Matt Williams, Optus Managing Director, Marketing and Revenue, said the Starlink partnership will help address the difficulties in providing coverage in under-served remote areas.
“Optus has always thought differently about what it means to deliver connectivity to our customers, and today we proudly provide mobile coverage to 98.5% of Australia’s population through our existing network,” Mr Williams said.
“However, 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.
“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.”
SpaceX’s Senior Director of Satellite Engineering, Sara Spangelo, said the company shared Optus’ vision for a better-connected Australia.
“We’re excited to collaborate with Optus and offer a solution to expand coverage and help keep customers connected regardless of where they live or travel,” Dr Spangelo said.
While the deal is great news for country Australia, the service won’t go live for at least another 12 months. Optus plans to begin rolling out Starlink satellite capability in phases, beginning with launching satellite-powered SMS in late 2024, and voice and data in late 2025.
Optus will test its satellite-to-phone coverage “extensively” before launching in 2024. Once live, satellite connectivity will be available to customers with compatible smartphones, without the need to buy extra equipment.
“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,” Mr Williams added. “It will create a unique experience for Optus customers.”
Is the Optus Starlink deal the same one launched by Telstra?
While Optus’ Starlink announcement does come suspiciously soon after Telstra’s partnership reveal, each provider is targeting a different telecommunications pain point. Optus and Starlink will work to deliver mobile coverage to rural Australia, while Telstra’s agreement will offer satellite broadband and voice-only services.
Telstra plans to use Starlink’s satellite internet technology to provide fast, reliable internet to areas where fixed-line networks, such as fibre NBN, aren’t available. The deal will give NBN Co’s Sky Muster satellite and fixed wireless some serious competition, particularly if Telstra can offer Starlink speeds at more affordable prices.
Currently, Starlink’s plans aren’t cheap: you’ll pay $139 per month for the service, plus up to $924 upfront for the necessary hardware. This is significantly pricier than NBN’s newly-launched Sky Muster Plus Premium plans, which offer unlimited data for $99 per month.
Telstra’s Starlink products will also offer Australian-based customer service and support, something that isn’t yet available to customers who order from Starlink directly.
In contrast, it seems that Optus isn’t planning to launch a separate mobile product, but will instead use Starlink’s satellite to boost coverage for its existing phone, home wireless and mobile broadband services. However, the telco is remaining tight-lipped about exact details, saying in a statement that “characteristics and accessibility” for satellite-to-phone coverage will be provided closer to the launch date.
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