Tech

Rumors of a satellite-comms-capable iPhone 13 abound

Rumor has it Apple’s upcoming iPhone 13 can directly use satellites in low Earth orbit for communication.

If true, that means the smartphones can make calls and send text messages in regions with little or no cellular coverage, provided the handsets can reach a sat up above, MacRumors first reported on Sunday. Industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reckons the iGiant’s latest phone, expected to be revealed next month, will sport a Qualcomm-designed X60 modem chip customized to support 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.

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 tried to clarify the matter by reporting 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 though to the emergency services using available communications satellites. Data length would be limited to a few lines of text initially.

The second feature is for an app to report more general emergencies and crises, such as road accidents and fires, when cell 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 would be functional this year, apparently.

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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