Satellite links to phones in the offing

Weekender
TECHNOLOGY

THE prospect of handphone users connecting directly to satellites is a technology that is already developed but the trillion-dollar question is whether it will eventually be made accessible to all.
Talk of such a technology surfaced in December 2019 and the technology development has been kept “secret” till today.
The reason is plain simple. If the technology is allowed to apply to handphone users, telecommunication companies worldwide are set to become sunset business, just like what technology has inflicted on many businesses. Examples are photography and films, turntable records and Compact Discs, etc.
For now, Apple’s iPhone 13 satellite connectivity has been reportedly to be just for emergencies.
The iPhone 13 could have a Qualcomm X60 baseband chip allowing it to not only use 4G and 5G, but satellite signals. Technology analyst Kuo Ming-Chi named Globalstar as the most likely satellite communications company collaborating with Apple on the service.
In a note to investors, seen by MacRumors, Kuo explained that the ‌iPhone 13‌ lineup will feature hardware that is able to connect to LEO satellites. If enabled with the relevant software features, this could allow ‌iPhone 13‌ users to make calls and send messages without the need for a 4G or 5G cellular connection.
The ‌iPhone 13‌ reportedly features a customized Qualcomm X60 baseband chip that supports satellite communications. Other smartphone brands are apparently currently waiting until 2022 to adopt the X65 baseband chip necessary to implement satellite communications functions.
SpaceX’s Starlink is a purveyor of LEO internet connectivity that some readers may already be familiar with, but the LEO satellite communication service provider that is “most likely to cooperate with Apple in terms of technology and service coverage” is said to be Globalstar. Qualcomm has purportedly been working with Globalstar to support the n53 band in future X65 baseband chips.
Kuo explained that the “simplest scenario” for providing LEO connectivity to users is if individual network operators work with Globalstar. This means that customers of a partner network operator could use Globalstar’s satellite communication service on the ‌iPhone 13‌ directly through their network operator with no additional contracts or payments required. Kuo added that LEO satellite communications is a technology comparable to mmWave 5G in terms of its impact on the network industry and that Apple may leverage both technologies. Kuo says that Apple is “optimistic” about the trend of satellite communications and set up a specific team for research and development of technologies related to it “some time” ago.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported on the existence of this team in 2019, explaining that Apple was looking into new ways to beam data like internet connectivity directly to iPhones and other devices. Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook reportedly made the project a company priority, with the main aim to beam data directly to a user’s iPhone without reliance on wireless carriers and network coverage.
In 2017, Apple hired two Google executives with satellite expertise, who are believed to have been leading the team dedicated to satellites and related wireless technologies.
The company is believed to have plans to bring LEO satellite communications to more devices in the future to “provide innovative experiences”. These may include Apple’s mixed reality head-mounted display device, electric vehicle, and other Internet of Things (IoT) accessories, according to Kuo.
According to a Dec 20, 2019 Tech Crunch report, Apple is said to be working on satellite technology, having hired a number of aerospace engineers to form a team along with satellite and antenna designers, according to a new report from Bloomberg.
The report notes that this is an early-stage secret project that could still be scrapped, but that the purpose of the team and its work is to potentially develop communications satellite technology that can send and receive data directly to user devices, including the iPhone, in a bid to make it possible to connect Apple devices without the need of a third-party network.
Bloomberg says that Apple would not necessarily be building its own satellite hardware — it could instead be developing just the transmission devices or ground-based equipment to make use of data transmissions for orbital communications equipment. The tech could be used for actually delivering data directly to Apple devices, or it could just connect them to each other independent of a cellphone carrier data network. It also could be used to provide more accurate location services for better maps and guidance, the report says. Apple is said to have hired both executives and engineers from the aerospace and satellite industry, including Skybox Imaging alumni Michael Trela and John Fenwick, who are leading the team. These two formerly headed up Google’s satellite and spacecraft division. New hires include former Aerospace Corporation executive Ashley Moore Williams, as well as key personnel from the wireless networking and content-delivery network industries. – Picture by Erik Simonsen/Getty Images

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