Apple’s new smartphones are reaching for the stars. With the iPhone an emergency call can be made to a satellite network if you are in a dead zone because there is no terrestrial mobile network. The device replaces a satellite phone that adventurers, world travelers or journalists carry with them in crisis areas.
During the launch of its new iPhone 14 models last week Apple has announced that it will work with a satellite network operator that was initially not named. It’s Globalstar, which has been on the market since 1998 and has a few dozen low-Earth satellites in operation. Low-flying satellites at altitudes of between 800 and 1400 kilometers require a weaker signal than higher-flying geostationary satellites. However, more satellites are needed to cover the earth because they are only visible in the sky for a short time at a time, and the iPhone satellite radio operator will also notice this, more on that later.
Globalstar is currently only available to American customers and the satellites do not communicate directly with each other but via ground stations. That’s why a satellite simultaneously in view of the end device and a ground station. Areas without a ground station are not covered. Globalstar currently does not have coverage for Africa and India, parts of Oceania and the polar regions.
The regulatory authorities also want to have a say
Since the new iPhone 14 uses Globalstar’s satellite frequencies, there is no need for regulatory approvals. Globalstar is permitted to use a narrow 2.4 gigahertz band for its mobile satellite service worldwide and terrestrially for small LTE cells. However, the bandwidth of only 11.5 megahertz with a maximum data rate of just 256 kbit/s already indicates what Apple during the press conference in Cupertino: The iPhone 14 user calling for help can communicate with an emergency call center with just short text modules. Voice telephony is not provided. In addition, you have to “target” the respective satellite in advance, a schematic position display on the display helps, but one thing is clear: If you call for help with the iPhone 14 via satellite, you still have to be able to carry out a few operating steps on the iPhone with a clear mind .
Another caveat: the service won’t launch until November and initially only in the United States and Canada. Other regions are gradually being added. The satellite connection will be free for two years. What comes next has not been communicated. According to media reports, Globalstar has sold 85 percent of its entire network capacity to Apple.
What Huawei, Space X and Elon Musk are planning
Regardless of all limitations, Apple’s announcement has a fundamental meaning. Exactly one day before Apple’s press conference, Huawei made an exclamation mark by announcing that one of its new smartphones would connect to the Chinese satellite network, and earlier in late August T-Mobile in the United States announced that smartphones on its network would in future be able to connect to the Space-X satellite network from Elon Musk would build.
In this way, the supply gaps in America could be closed. Here the device should use the 5G frequencies to make contact with the satellites that are also flying close to the earth. However, the approval of the regulator must be obtained for this. This also applies to the efforts now announced by the British satellite network operator Oneweb to start a pilot project for communication between satellites and 5G-enabled smartphones. According to these ideas, the satellite network should become a network component of 5G. Oneweb has launched more than 600 satellites into orbit since 2019.
This and Apple’s announcements are likely to put mobile operators in a mood of alarm. The smartphone manufacturers are emancipating themselves from the terrestrial radio networks, they could give their own services with the satellite connection a technological boost and competitive advantage in the long term. They could continue to open up new business models and sources of income independently of the mobile radio operators, without them having the slightest chance of getting involved.