Rumors of satellite-comms-capable iPhone abound. The truth could be rather boring

Meanwhile, Amazon gripes about SpaceX's constellation plans


It's claimed Apple’s upcoming iPhone 13 can use satellites in low Earth orbit for communication.

According to MacRumors, which on Sunday quoted industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the smartphones will be able to make calls and send text messages in regions with little or no Wi-Fi or cellular coverage, provided the handsets can reach a satellite up above.

The iGiant’s latest phone, expected to be revealed next month, will apparently sport a Qualcomm-designed X60-series modem chip that supports satellite connectivity. Apple has had a team working on integrating satellite comms into its iGadgets for years now, and Kuo said US-based Globalstar would be Cupertino's most likely partner.

Globalstar began in the early 1990s as a joint venture between defense contractor Loral Corporation and Qualcomm, and it specializes in operating birds in low Earth orbits for satellite phones. Its stock price jumped 64 per cent on Monday amid these whispers.

But what's actually likely the case is that Qualcomm's X65 modem, which supports Globalstar's radio band N53, may be used in future iPhones. And, crucially, though Globalstar is best known for its satellites, N53 is chiefly aimed at terrestrial connectivity and small-cell 5G.

It may be the case that future iPhones, with an X65 inside, use available Globalstar N53 networks, which may be backed by satellite backhaul as well as other connectivity, to send messages and make calls where wireless coverage is otherwise low.

And word of this feature mutated into the rumor of direct satellite connectivity, it seems. Don't expect the iPhone 13 to include any direct satellite communications.

Speaking of satellite communications... SpaceX’s satellite operator Starlink wants to provide a phone service for customers, judging by paperwork submitted to the FCC at the start of the year.

“Starlink Services will provide voice telephony services, including: (a) voice-grade access to the public switched telephone network ('PSTN') or its functional equivalent; (b) minutes of use for local service provided at no additional charge to end users; (c) access to emergency services; and (d) toll limitation services to qualifying low-income consumers…,” its filing [PDF] stated. “Starlink Services will offer voice services on a standalone basis at rates that are reasonably comparable to urban rates.”

Meanwhile last week, Amazon was upset about Starlink's proposals for a second-generation constellation, which includes another 30,000 sats. Amazon has plans of its own for a network of satellites, of course.

After market close, Bloomberg reported that a source said Apple was working on two satellite-related additions to its upcoming iPhones.

The first is said to be Emergency Message via Satellite, which would allow people outside of cell tower range to get a message through to the emergency services. Data length would be limited to a few lines of text initially.

The second feature can be used to report general emergencies and crises, such as road accidents and fires, when wireless coverage is unavailable. “The phone will ask what kind of emergency is happening, such as whether it involves a car, boat, plane or fire,” the news wire reported.

Neither system will be functional this year, and both fit the N53 band explanation better than the unlikely notion iPhones are turning into chunky satellite phones.

Apple hasn't set a date for its annual hardware launch event yet; it's due to be held in September or thereabouts. ®

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