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Touted as a game-changer for areas like the Catskills and Adirondacks, the “Coverage Above and Beyond” initiative aimed to bridge the gap between remote wilderness and the connected world.
In August 2022, the outdoor community was abuzz with the announcement of a partnership between SpaceX and T-Mobile US, promising to extend cellular connectivity into the deepest recesses of the backcountry. This ambitious project, however, has faced significant hurdles, leading to a complex conversation within the hiking community.
Initial Announcement (2022)
The collaboration was set to leverage SpaceX’s Starlink satellite capabilities and T-Mobile’s mid-band PCS spectrum, potentially transforming every smartphone into a satellite phone. Aimed at locations well beyond the reach of traditional cell towers, this service promised to offer a lifeline in the wilderness, enhancing safety for hikers and adventurers.
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October 2023 Update
A year into the announcement, the envisioned revolution in backcountry connectivity seems to be on hold. The beta test, initially scheduled for the latter half of 2023, has not materialized. T-Mobile’s representative’s statement to Mobile World Live – “nothing to share at this time” – paints a picture of uncertainty and delay.
Failure to Launch?
Industry analysts attribute this setback to SpaceX’s challenges with satellite launches. Roger Entner, a Recon Analytics analyst, pointed out, “Your limiting factor for all of the satellite services is that SpaceX is not launching satellites because they had some [rockets] blow up.” This delay raises questions about the feasibility of such an ambitious project.
Tim Farrar, president at TMF Associates, highlighted the recent SpaceX’s request for special temporary authority (STA) to launch its second-generation test satellites, suggesting that any public beta trials might not begin until early 2024 — if at all.
Maybe if Musk had spent less time running X (formerly known as Twitter) into the ground, this project might have taken off.
Overall, good news or bad? For now, we’ve lost Twitter but retained a few cherished patches of rare disconnectivity…
As someone who escapes into nature as frequently as possible, I find myself in a quandary over this project. On one hand, the promise of enhanced safety is hard to ignore. On the other, the solitude and disconnection offered by areas with zero cell coverage are irreplaceable. “For some of us, sometimes, getting away from it all is exactly the point,” as I often remind myself.
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Opinions in the wider hiking community reflects this dichotomy.
- “It’s just inevitable… Gotta just do the disconnect from our end,” suggests one hiker, highlighting the need for self-regulation in an increasingly connected world.
- Another expresses a desire for balance: “I like the idea of comprehensive phone coverage but not internet.”
- The practicality of existing devices is noted: “I like my Garmin because the battery life is soooo much longer.”
- The safety aspect resonates with many: “I mostly have it as a woman who hikes alone,” a solo hiker mentions, underlining the security that such connectivity could provide.
- Yet, skepticism remains, as one hiker points out, “Wouldn’t get too excited. The cyber truck still doesn’t exist.”
- “Phone dying is almost not a problem on hikes…if you carry a portable charger,” points to the practicalities of relying on smartphones in the wilderness.
- The potential for misuse and over-reliance on technology is a concern: “I wonder if we’ll get more people venturing beyond their capabilities with widened reception.”
- Another hiker poignantly and pithily notes, “Crap. I totally love being off-grid.”
The SpaceX and T-Mobile backcountry connectivity project stands at a junction. It symbolizes the ongoing tension between technological advancement and the purity of the wilderness experience.
As the project’s future unfolds, the hiking community remains divided yet engaged, pondering over the nuances of safety, solitude, and the essence of what it truly means to be connected — or disconnected — in nature.
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