Recap: Satellite telephones, or satellite telephones, have been around for decades. Globalstar, for example, has been commercially active since 1999. Up until that point, however, the use of satellite phones was largely restricted to remote regions of the world that are beyond the reach of traditional cell towers.
So far, terrestrial cellular carriers have been a necessary part of the smartphone equation, but that could change with Apple’s next iPhone.
Renowned Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in a recent MacRumors-prestigious investor release that the iPhone 13 family will ship with hardware that will allow them to connect to low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites. If so, with the right software, iPhone 13 users could potentially have voice and text communications without a 4G or 5G cellular connection or Wi-Fi.
Apple isn’t unique when it comes to coming up with the idea, but they might be the first to do it. Kuo said Apple set up an R&D team “some time ago” to look at the technology.
The chip that enables such functionality is said to be a modified version of Qualcomm’s X60 baseband chip; Other cell phone manufacturers are reportedly waiting for the X65 baseband chip to implement satellite communications, and that could not happen until 2022 at the earliest.
Kuo said satellite communications company Globalstar is “most likely” to partner with Apple on technology and service coverage.
It’s unclear exactly how service plans might work, but Kuo believes the easiest scenario for individual carriers would be to partner with Globalstar and offer the feature to customers without additional contracts or payments.
Bringing satellite technology to general consumer devices is an interesting idea, and Kuo believes it could be on par with mmWave 5G in terms of impact on the cellular 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.