Summary: Satellite-based phones, or satellite phones, have been around for decades. Globalstar, for example, has been operating commercially since 1999. Up to this point, however, the use of satellite phones has largely been limited to remote regions of the world that are beyond the reach of traditional cell towers.
Terrestrial wireless service providers have so far been a necessary part of the smartphone equation, but all of that could change starting with Apple’s next iPhone.
Renowned Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in a recent note to investors seen by MacRumors He said the iPhone 13 family will ship with hardware that will allow them to connect to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. If true, and with the right software, iPhone 13 users could potentially perform voice and text communications without a 4G or 5G cellular connection or Wi-Fi.
Apple isn’t the only one coming up with the idea, but it might be the first to do so. Kuo said Apple created an R&D team “some time ago” to research the technology.
The chip to enable such functionality is said to be a modified version of Qualcomm’s X60 baseband chip; Other phone makers are reportedly waiting for the X65 baseband chip to implement satellite communications, and that might not happen until 2022 at the earliest.
Kuo said that the satellite communications company Global star It is “more likely” to work with Apple in terms of technology and service coverage.
It is unclear exactly how the service plans might work, but Kuo believes the easiest scenario would be for individual network operators to work with Globalstar and offer the feature to customers without additional contracts or payments.
Bringing satellite technology to consumer devices in general is an interesting idea, and Kuo thinks it could be comparable to mmWave 5G in terms of the impact it has on the wireless industry. And if Apple is indeed the first to market it on a large scale, it could be used to further expand its iPhone install base.