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BT said to be planning major broadband upgrade with help of Elon Musk’s Starlink

Elon Musk's SpaceX deploys satellites for a mobile service after previously launching a broadband network (Kirsty Wigglesworth / PA Wire)
Elon Musk's SpaceX deploys satellites for a mobile service after previously launching a broadband network (Kirsty Wigglesworth / PA Wire)

BT could turn to Elon Musk’s Starlink to improve broadband and mobile services, according to a new report.

The telecoms firm is apparently testing Starlink’s satellite-connected equipment at its Adastral Park research centre in Ipswich.

Instead of using cables to transmit data, Musk’s Starlink has placed a network of more than 5,000 satellites in low Earth orbit, which beam high-speed internet to small dishes on the ground.

BT’s goal is to stamp out so-called “not spots” in rural areas, reports The Telegraph. It is also said to be eyeing Starlink’s satellite-mobile service in a possible boon for customers on BT-owned EE – though it may need the go-ahead from regulator Ofcom to proceed.

Although it’s easy to take lightning-fast internet or 5G for granted in the capital, Londoners can run into connection troubles when they venture further afield. Even today, around three per cent of the UK doesn’t receive superfast broadband, while seven per cent lacks reliable 4G outdoors.

Notably, Starlink doesn’t have a UK partner for its upcoming mobile-satellite network, meaning Brits stand to miss out on the service when it goes live later this year. In a milestone for the company, Starlink recently powered its first exchange of text messages using its “direct-to-cell” satellites.

BT previously told the Standard that it was testing a satellite service with the aim of plugging spotty connections. In the future, the space-beamed signal would step in if your internet dropped out, often without you even knowing it.

“It’s our objective for the customer to be unaware of how they’re accessing the network to give them the coverage they need,” Andy Sutton, an engineer and principal architect at BT’s Networks division, told the Standard last July.

The trial with Starlink could be the latest blow for BT’s current satellite partner, London-based OneWeb. A £400 million bailout during the pandemic indicated that the firm was already facing concerns.