Wednesday, Sep 01, 2021, 09:52 iOS: Hardware

Bloomberg Confirms: iPhones Receiving Satellite Communication & What That Means For Users

Over the last few years, there have been several reports expressing Apple's interest in satellite technology. In 2019, information leaked that Cupertino had recently assembled a large team of space travel experts. After countless tech companies had long since announced plans to launch their own satellites into orbit, Apple followed suit with considerations. In areas where population density is too low to warrant construction of a close-knit relay of cellular and mobile internet, satellite communication is of especial interest. This week, the topic has popped back up in the media, although in a slightly different manner.

No Telephony Possible – At The Start
Bloomberg is now taking suit after market expert Ming-Chi Kuo first spoke about the iPhone 13 and satellite communication at the start of this week. An article by Mark Gurman from Bloomberg claims that the rumors can now be confirmed. Apple does indeed intend to connect the iPhone to Globalstar satellites and thus attain worldwide coverage. However, there are two limitations with respect to Mr. Kuo's statements. Even if the hardware necessary for the feature is included in the iPhone 13, it will be some time until the feature is activated. In addition, the technology is still in the early phases and quite limited – for example, it won't be possible to make or receive calls to or from family and friends.

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Emergency Messages & Disaster Notifications
Instead of providing full coverage, satellite communication will only provide emergency features for now. For example, "Emergency Message via Satellite", which allows users to perform an emergency phone call without a mobile connection. In addition to SMS and iMessage, the Messages app should also receive a feature for the aforementioned protocol. Apple is currently developing a warning system under the code name "Stewie" to notify users of serious emergency situations (plane crashes, sinking ships, natural disasters). Should users decide to submit a notification, they'll be led through a step by step process intended to extract as much information as possible. Telephone connections to emergency services are theoretically possible, however, they are not explicitly part of the project.


A current satellite smartphone, the Thuraya X5-Touch.


Significant Limitations & Challenges
There's one more point to consider – worldwide coverage via satellite may still be a dream wish, as there are still local laws to consider. In a few regions, application would be either technically impossible or illegal, due to local laws. Thus, it's not Apple's goal to invent a system for every country in the world. There's also the problem of reception – current satellite antennae are massive and won't fit easily in a compact device like the iPhone. As per the aforementioned limitations (no normal calling features and very limited texting features), it's possible that Apple might solve the antenna problem with integrated components. Given Apple's nit pickiness when it comes to design, a large external antenna is clearly out of the question and an attachable accessory also seems unlikely – since emergency features need to be readily available in the event of an acute accident.

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