iPhone’s satellite calling feature might finally launch — but could be too late

Apple has finished testing satellite connectivity on its upcoming iPhone 14 series, but launching the feature will depend on concluding deals with operators.

That is according to renowned Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who previously predicted the iPhone 13 would feature satellite calling in August 2021.

Speculation was rife that Apple would offer limited satellite connectivity features on the iPhone 13 from its launch. However, the company has been mum on its plans almost a year after it launched.

Satellites have the greatest reach of any communications technology, making them useful for making calls and sending messages in remote areas without regular cellular coverage.

But the hardware built into satellite phones to let them communicate on conventional satellite frequency bands is expensive, besides the relatively high fees service providers charge.

Macrumors reports that Kuo recently said it was “hard to predict” when the feature would become available as it would depend on “whether Apple and operators can settle the business model.”

The capability would only allow for making emergency calls and sending short texts in areas without cellular connectivity.

Several publications have speculated that the space-themed design of Apple’s iPhone 14 launch event invite and its “Far Out” name suggested that satellite connectivity would be a headliner at the announcement.

The official invite to Apple’s upcoming event where it is expected to launch the iPhone 14

But having built-in satellite feature capability might not make for such a major selling point as it would have last year.

Late last week, SpaceX and T-Mobile announced a partnership that will see Starlink low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites provide Internet connectivity in remote areas in the US where T-Mobile doesn’t have towers.

Because it will use T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum, the system will work with smartphones that don’t have built-in satellite connectivity.

While conventional voice calls will only be available at a later stage, data connectivity will launch on T-Mobile’s most popular plans from early next year.

Verizon and Amazon have also partnered on a similar initiative using satellites from the ecommerce giant’s Project Kuiper.

However, Amazon will only begin launching its satellites in 2024, while Starlink already has more than 3,000 satellites in orbit supporting global coverage.

Outside the US, Vodafone and AST SpaceMobile have launched an initiative that will use 160 satellites to provide coverage to standard cellular phones in rural areas.

The project’s first phase will cover 49 equatorial countries with 20 satellites.

The final constellation will comprise 168 satellites and include coverage for Vodafone subsidiary Vodacom and the countries in which it operates — including South Africa.

Apple’s satellite feature might not be unique

Apple’s advantage might be that it won’t require mobile networks to sacrifice a part of their spectrum as the chip would enable connectivity to conventional satellite spectrum in the higher frequency bands.

However, the extent of the iPhone’s support for satellite connectivity has not been confirmed, with reports only saying it would be capable of connecting to low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, like the ones Starlink uses.

Given that the component supposedly enabling the iPhone’s satellite connectivity is a modified Qualcomm X60 chip, which provides 5G support, the next iPhone could use the same mid-band spectrum from the T-Mobile and Starlink partnership.

That would correlate with comment from critics of Kuo’s initial claims in August 2021.

Kuo had explained Apple would enable satellite connectivity by implementing support for Globalstart’s n53 band.

But the mobile experts pointed out that the n53 band was for terrestrial spectrum and had already been used in 4G and 5G private networks.


Now read: Starlink map update is good news for South Africa

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iPhone’s satellite calling feature might finally launch — but could be too late