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iPhone 13 to support LEO satellite communication (9to5mac.com)
248 points by buron 51 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 272 comments

I'm going to call it exactly as I see it: This is fake.

1) LEO. Low Earth Orbit. Starlink is in a lower than usual orbit, and look at the immense effort/expense to make base station antennae that can reliably communicate with the satellites. They're not going to magically stuff that into an iPhone.

EDIT: Some replies have said "Hey, Iridium is LEO". The same antenna issue applies.

2) Bandwidth. Unless Apple has been secretly launching their own fleet of satellites, where are they getting the bandwidth? I doubt it's Starlink. Any incumbent satellite operators (such as Thuraya, mentioned in another comment) are in Geostationary orbit, not LEO. This requires an even better antenna. See #1.

I don't claim to be an expert in any of this, adding this capability an iPhone would be as disruptive as the iPhone itself was. Apple was able to keep the iPhone under wraps, but it's impossible to do that with satellite launches and FCC filings as we've learned with SpaceX. So for these reasons I call Fake. Maybe next decade.

I agree it's unlikely, but, not for technical reasons.

Iridium would work fine for this if you limit it to iMessage/SMS and anything else low-bandwidth (I would imagine they add 911/SOS support too).

I have a Garmin InReach which operates on Iridium, it's a 5+ year-old-device which works fine with Iridium in very challenging conditions and isn't very much larger than an iPhone.

Considering (some of) the commercial side of this, I strongly suspect the Iridium network has more than enough capacity for such a plan and Iridium could easily support it technically and they could work out some reasonable commercial terms with Apple for this. If Iridium doesn't want to work with Apple the company could surely be acquired for effectively pocket change by Apple and if they did release such hardware and charge a monthly subscription for "100% global coverage" it could be pretty quickly profitable.

But, with all of that said, I'm really not sure why Apple would want to do this. Like I said, I have an InReach, I'm commonly in areas with no cell service and so for me this would be a clear win and I would love it, but, I suspect I'm squarely in the minority.

I dunno how much of a minority you're in.

If I could just by an iPhone13 and not have to also have an inreach, that would sell me on it.

That's not a massive market segment for sure, but I know plenty of folks living in vans in southern Utah who likely would do the same; so there is an identifable market even if its small.

Small anecdote, I saw a girl’s life get saved by someone being smart enough to have an in-reach on them. Snowmobiling accident, got a helo to pick her out of the Idaho backcountry. No doubt in my mind she would be dead or severely disabled had it not been used to contact help.

Instant buy if they built iridium into an iPhone for emergency use… also… if they do that, invest in helicopter and life flight medical companies.

This year will be year 3 of me learning to ski. 65 days over the last two years. I really, really want to be in the back country.

Thankfully Utah's avalanche center does post mortem YT videos, cause damn that really tempers my drive to get out there.

Snow is so freekin' dangerous.

There is a long discussion on moutainproject about what folks carry in their first aid kits... TBH, given that "stabilize for definitive care" is pretty much the limit of what I can actually do, anything that decreases that time by any amount is probably the best first aid.

I can easily see how this would be much cheaper and better than inreach and similar, even at the low-end of the capabilities.

It's usually too late by the time help arrives in an avalanche scenario. If something happens you could have about 15 minutes to rescue your partner(s). You must NOT go alone. Get a course in snow rescue, find experienced people and go with them. Be alert. Always carry a basic avalanche rescue kit: a modern beacon, a probe and a shovel.

And, if you must, you could get a Cospas-Sarsat PLB in addition to your avalanche beacon.

If the new phones can deliver near global coverage for SMS/iMesssage texts and findMy services then that is a huge selling point. Tapping into the rescue device market for hikers and backpackers is a huge business opportunity.

> Tapping into the rescue device market for hikers and backpackers is a huge business opportunity.

Would that be even noticeable on Apple's Income statement?

How big is this market?

It is not that Apple isn't able to sell crap people don't really need. It is about creating the desire. Some others like the fact their phone cannot be located at will... I fear that is the smaller crowd. Sexy and smart, but small.

This is a case where I don’t think it matters how large the market is, but rather the perception of how valuable the bullet point is.

Apple has been reportedly exploring the "extreme sports" market recently.


But it's still a somewhat larger device dedicated to a single function.

For me, I'm not sure I'd want inReach-type capability in my phone if it was another monthly subscription fee. I'd prefer a separate extremely rugged device given that, when I might really need it, there's a decent chance I'm in really crappy weather, have gloves on, my face covered, etc. Who wants to be fiddling with their phone under those conditions?

The problem with any "second device" is that it needs to be with you and charged up when you need it. My phone fits the bill already, so adding a fallback for ubiquitous basic connectivity would be a win.

The most important use cases for the InReach are pretty specific though. I'm not likely to be strolling down the frozen food aisle in the local grocery store and suddenly wish I had my InReach on me. Sure, backup iMessage capability when I'm out of cell phone service range would be nice. But I'm not going to pay the amount that Garmin charges for that capability. (Though some people perhaps would if they routinely go places with no service.)

You might not even need to. If they put it in the Apple One Subscription , they’ve already won.

Well, sure. Apple One is already essentially a no-brainer for me once my "free" Apple TV+ expires. If they add more into that, why not?

I don’t think you have to wait. I had some free time left on Apple TV+ when I subscribed to Apple One and then they started crediting me monthly for the value of the TV+ subscription.

Interesting. I'll have to run the numbers.

I have had my iPhone “too cold to work” while snowboarding and “too hot to work” a few hours later hanging out by a fire.

Something people should consider when they read the words “rugged”, it’s not always about cracking/breaking.

The InReach has some advantage here too.

When off, the battery seems to last "effectively forever" and when on it has "several days" of battery life even when doing constant communication with a satellite for location updates.

InReach is a monthly subscription anyway.

Right. My point was that, if I'm going to pay a monthly satellite subscription fee one way or the other, I'm probably going to go with the separate device that is designed with wilderness situations in mind.

> I have a Garmin InReach

The photo seems to indicate the InReach is 3-4x as thick as an iPhone. I couldn’t find specs. Would you care to share the actual size?

Given the size of my Garmin 64st, I bet that most of that thickness is down case design. Apple sacrifices a lot of durability in the name of making the “thinnest iPhone ever”, while Garmin often goes in the exact opposite direction for fairly obvious reasons.

2.04” x 3.90” x 1.03” (5.17 x 9.90 x 2.61 cm)

It’s chunky. Hard to say how much of that is radio and antenna. And folks in this discussion seem to forget the antenna, which is multiples of iPhone thickness.


It's chunky, but, it's older and made of plastic vs glass/metal and designed to be more resistant to drops/falls/damage. It's also a 6 year old design, technology has moved on.

My larger point being that I don't find it implausible that it could be done, since, 6-year-old technology was already close.

Cell service can be spotty outside of urban centers. I could imagine some people benefitting without hiking to remote locations.

> This is fake

Let's reserve words like "fake" for knowingly misleading or malicious misinformation. This might be wrong or misunderstood but I'm pretty sure it's not deliberate lies.

So much of the comments so far have focussed on two things: 1. The size of the antennae and 2. The huge cost of bandwidth on satellite services.

For 1, who's to say there isn't an add-on antenna planned? The news is about the baseband support. Knowing Apple they will sell a hugely expensive add-on antenna which connects via magsafe. This does not indicate the news is wrong.

For 2, obviously carriers or maybe Apple itself will have to organise the auth/payment arrangements to actually make use of this new capability. This also seems doable and is not a blocker, it means, this will not be some automatic free things users can just use on day one.

None of these points really strike me as showstoppers and certainly do not warrant claims of "fake!".

Here's what is actually being reported: the iPhone 13 will have the technical capability to connect, using some yet to be released antenna adapter, via some yet to be announced plans or arrangements, in some yet to be described capacity, to LEO satellite services.

> They're not going to magically stuff that into an iPhone.

This sounds a bit like Ed Colligan's immortal "they're not going to just walk in."

The thing is, you're right, of course they're not going to just tweak a few things and somehow fit a satellite antenna into a phone. They're going to put Apple-level resources into recruiting a team of the field's leading experts and funding them for years to do it.

As you say, this would be a genuinely disruptive development in mobile tech. It seems at very least plausible that Apple would see this as a problem worth throwing a spare billion at solving.

» This sounds a bit like Ed Colligan's immortal "they're not going to just walk in."

Some context for others like me

> Sarah Jane Tribble and Dean Takahashi, reporting for the San Jose Mercury News on Palm CEO Ed Colligan’s remarks two weeks ago regarding Apple’s prospects in the mobile phone market:

» Responding to questions from New York Times correspondent John Markoff at a Churchill Club breakfast gathering Thursday morning, Colligan laughed off the idea that any company — including the wildly popular Apple Computer — could easily win customers in the finicky smart-phone sector.

» “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,” he said. “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”


I’m sure Apple would love to find a way to bypass the mobile operators, especially in the US.

It'll be low bandwidth of course. The starlink antenna size is just to give more bandwidth. Bigger antenna means less error correction which means more bandwidth for other things. Voice compressed can be intelligible at 300bps. You can do that with a smaller antenna and more error correction. Mobile Satellite phones are already similar in size to other phones.

This. And it's not just that the starlink antenna is bigger; it also moves (virtually -- it's a phased array) to follow the moving satellite. Pointing at the satellite (either with motors or with phased array technology) is absolutely essential for high-bandwidth LEO. Iridium antennas don't follow the satellite; they're effectively omnidirectional so their gain and S/N ratio are terrible. And that's good enough for the 2400bps Iridium provides. But it's nowhere near what a 4G or 5G land-based connection provides to a normal smartphone.

Just throwing this out there; but with a handheld device, GPS, clock, known and predictable location of the sats, a high resolution accelerometer… wouldn’t it be possible to get the user to point to the sky and then send the message?

Small antenna, text only, etc. Seems like Apple could disrupt here, but I don’t know a ton on antenna design.

No. Your aim has to be much better than the human musculoskeletal system is capable of. Go outside on a dark night and point a laser pointer at a building 100 meters away. Hold it as steady as you can. Have a friend take a closeup video of the bright spot from 2 meters away. Notice how much the dot wobbles around.

Now imagine doing the same experiment where the dot is 540km away -- 5000 times farther. That's the altitude of a Starlink satellite. You might get lucky and sweep across the satellite once in a while but most of the time the beam will be many kilometers away from it.

It's not quite this bad; the beam will be fairly wide at 540km which makes the problem a little bit easier, but it's still basically impossible to hold the beam on the satellite for more than a few milliseconds.

And even that wouldn't work because you can't collect a strong enough signal from a satellite with an antenna the size of a cell phone. You need a parabolic dish or phased array about the size of a pizza box (minimum) to boost the gain enough. Satellites don't transmit with a lot of power, so your antenna needs a large area.

Good news: You don't have to do it this way. If you limit yourself to short text messages you don't have to aim the beam or use a lot of gain. That's how Iridium works.

But if you need a fatter pipe: Carry an antenna the size of a pizza box with you. Set it on the ground, let it acquire the satellite, then talk to it with your phone over wifi or bluetooth. Because this antenna uses closed loop feedback it can point very accurately at the satellite and stay locked on. This is basically how the Starlink antenna works, except Starlink would prefer that you not move the antenna from place to place (yet). And you'll need a big battery to power the antenna. It needs about 100 watts for transmitting; probably quite a bit less for receiving.

Antenna gain is not binary: There's things in between laser pointers and lightbulbs.

> Your aim has to be much better than the human musculoskeletal system is capable of.

> You need a parabolic dish or phased array about the size of a pizza box (minimum) to boost the gain enough.

No – there even is a very specific counterexample: https://satpaq.com/

I doubt that Apple would use that approach, though. If anything, I'd imagine that they'd use existing (for 802.11 and LTE) beamforming capabilities.

Satpaq is yet another short message service. It seems to use a semi-directional antenna. It doesn't require exact pointing because the bandwidth is very low. You cannot surf the web with it and you certainly cannot upload Youtube videos with it.

The only reason some pointing is required for Satpaq is that it uses GEO satellites which are a lot farther away than LEO, so concentrating most of the phone's energy into a cone a few thousand miles wide when it hits the satellite is necessary even for short messages. You need to do much, much better than this for high bandwidth applications.

GEO sats are also not a moving target; LEO sats are. That makes GEO slightly easier to point at, assuming you have a very wide beam which Satpaq does because it cannot possibly have a narrow one.

Again, high bandwidth satellite applications cannot work with such sloppy pointing mechanisms, and that limitation exists because of physics and information theory. It's not because "we just don't have good enough technology yet."

Beamforming techniques phones use to hit cell towers are not nearly good enough for satellites because satellites are so much farther away than cell towers. That means a satellite's transmitted energy is spread over a much wider area than a cell tower's is, and the ultra low power at which a phone transmits doesn't get a chance to spread out much before it hits the tower. You need a physically larger antenna when the thing you're pointing at is thousands of times farther away and you need to transmit with a lot more power. (Again, assuming you want the typical Youtube-style bandwidth cell phone users expect.)

> Mobile Satellite phones are already similar in size to other phones

As someone who owns a pretty big smartphone (iPhone 12 Pro Max) and both a current gen Iridium and Inmarsat phone (aka not a handheld two way pager, like the Garmin devices), I can assure you they aren’t similar in size in the slightest, even with the antenna stowed.

Per phone might be low bandwidth, but tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of phones is not low bandwidth.

And how many iPhones are going to be used out of network?

I can see people paying an extreme rate of say 10$/minute with serious warnings in a true emergency. But worldwide it might only be 100 phones at a time even with 10’s of millions of iPhones. Meanwhile averaging 100 calls * 10$/ minute is 1/2 billion dollars a year which could pay for bandwidth on LEO satellites.

Those numbers are of course pulled from thin air, but iridium suffers because few are going to keep such expensive service on a just in case basis. However, the technology and economics are really close to working out.

I carry an iridium hotspot when away from civilization and I’d definitely use an eSIM in my iPhone to get access to LEO sms or voice calls in a pinch. One less device to carry.

> Per phone might be low bandwidth

Yes, but you used the comparison to Starlink receivers. Per-phone is all that matters to refute your receiver size concern.

The reporting suggests that Apple partnered with Globalstar for delivery. I don't think anyone is under any illusions that Apple suddenly launched a LEO fleet but there's a lot of providers of satellite mobile telephony in the space and Globalstar is one of them. Low bandwidth satellite does not take huge hardware anymore.

You can buy Iridium or Globalstar mobile hotspots that are handheld in size (e.g., Iridium Go!). Many trail runners carry Garmin InReach which is phone-sized.

I could see an external accessory (that you plug via the lightning port) that has a radio and external antenna to connect to sat networks. Maybe extra batteries too.

However, it's very un-apple-like to do something like that.

Apple has a long history of forcing features into external devices

It does say "phone calls and text" and not "internet", so Starlink probably isn't the best comparison. Iridium phones aren't that bulky these days. I'm also skeptical, but mostly about what the motivation would be to do it and who would pay for it.

> Iridium phones aren't that bulky these days

I own both an Iridium phone and an Inmarsat phone, both are current gen. If you don’t consider them bulky, then you must be used to using an iPad/tablet as a phone. The antenna alone is longer than my iPhone 12 Max.

The context was that my comment was in response to magically stuffing a 2 foot diameter Starlink antenna into an iPhone. Where the challenge is instead stuffing one of these into an iPhone: https://www.iridium.com/phones/

Still challenging, but maybe not impossible.

Look at the antenna on those (or any other satellite phone). When the antenna is extended (required for continuous transmission like with even a poor audio quality call), it’s HUGE compared to anything possible in an iPhone form factor.

Iridium has devices on their network that look pretty dang small to me: https://www.iridium.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/mini3.jpg

And how much of that is just the IPX7 case?

For one thing, I said phone as did GP I was replying too. That’s not a phone (aka needing a continuous real time connection), that’s a low bandwidth data transmitter (aka a best effort single transmission that can take multiple minutes to send). Even still, look at the size of the antenna on that. It’s definitely not all plastic there. If you’ve ever seen a tear down of a modern smart phone, you’ll realize 95% of the space is either battery or screen. The space used by antenna (which is often part of the outer metal ring) or circuit board is extremely small in comparison.

Here's the antenna inside. Looks like a small helical antenna.


There are certainly other possible designs, as those creative frame-antennas that apple so infamously popularized with the iPhone 4. Iridium uses a 1.6 ghz signal, there's a lot of creative packaging that can be done at those frequencies.

And definitely, if this is in an iPhone, I'm sure it's low bandwidth use only.

> Here's the antenna inside. Looks like a small helical antenna.

Thanks for proving my point and saving me the hassle of looking up the antenna inside. There is no way that would fit inside an iPhone, even with Apple’s creativity in antenna design.

The frequency, as previously stated, is not the problem, it’s the transmission power. You need a lot more more watts of EIRP to transmit reliably 350 miles (distance to LEO) than you do for 3 miles (average distance to a cell tower). A modern smart phone transmits at about 100-200mW on average, Iridium operates at around 2 orders of magnitude higher transmit power than that.

Replacement batteries for the inreach mini online are labeled at 3.52Wh. The iPhone 12 has a 10.78 Wh battery.

The key to keeping power consumption low is that you transmit momentarily, not constantly.

A use case like backup communication on an iPhone wouldn’t necessitate use of the iridium network at 100% duty cycle.

> There is no way that would fit inside an iPhone, even with Apple’s creativity in antenna design.

The vast majority of the volume that a helical antenna consumes is empty space. The obvious solution is not groundbreakingly creative: try using something other than a helical antenna.

> A use case like backup communication on an iPhone wouldn’t necessitate use of the iridium network at 100% duty cycle.

The OP article explicitly says voice calls, which require a virtually 100% duty cycle. I entirely agree in an emergency beacon or maybe even messages capacity it’s potentially doable on an iPhone, but voice calls over satellite require a different antenna than is possible in the iPhone form factor. There’s been something like 50 satellite phones in common use, including at least one that is Android based, and the one thing that is constant across every single one of them is the size of the antenna, always requiring a large extension via fold or slide mechanism while a call is in progress.

I’ve personally owned over a dozen models of satellite devices (phones, beacons, terminals/hotspots, and two-way pagers) and used them on five continents, so I’m very familiar with the tech available in this space. There is just no existing satellite network that could support Apple’s iPhone footprint, even as a premium subscription add-on. There is zero chance Apple secretly and quietly launched their own satellite network, even just US based. Apple has also never been the lead adopter in any new radio technology / functionality (late to 3G, stalled on LTE due to early power usage issues, fairly behind even in 5G), especially one that is guaranteed to cause a hit to battery life in a big way, so I stand behind the statement this is a pipe dream for supporting voice calls.

> The vast majority of the volume that a helical antenna consumes is empty space. The obvious solution is not groundbreakingly creative: try using something other than a helical antenna.

There are only so many ways to make a circular polarized antenna (which is required to my knowledge for all existing sat networks). Yes, there are other ways besides helical antennas, but they still require much more space than is common to LTE/Wi-Fi/BT/BLE antennas used in phones.

Wow thanks for sharing the picture!

> Unless Apple has been secretly launching their own fleet of satellites, where are they getting the bandwidth?

For text messages or sending an emergency beacon signal, you don't need much bandwidth.

The surprise is Kuo specifying voice over IP as a supported feature, but modern codecs can really squeeze voice down now days.

>Lyra, which is now hosted on GitHub, can compress audio down to as little as 3 kilobits per second while still ensuring a sound quality that compares well with other codecs that require much greater bandwidth.


Satellite phone systems are using 2.4 kbps codecs, so while Lyra might significantly raise the voice quality bar, it would not really change the bandwidth requirements.

Agree. This might be planned for iPhone 14. And won’t have internet. Just low bandwidth apps. Like messaging and low quality phone calls. The only question is what will pricing look like. I’m betting free for emergency 🆘 and hourly for non emergency.

Marine weather is another big thing. It's not exactly low bandwidth, nor huge (maybe 100kb-1mb every 8 hours) but provides sailors with huge value.

The old cellular phones once had an external antennae too. But current modern cellular phones have managed to pack it internally. So perhaps this could be possible for satellite phones too, one day.

Technically, it may be possible but I think this is fake too - In India, you cannot own and operate a satellite phone without getting an NOC (no objection certificate) from the Home Ministry (who are in charge of internal security in india). Apple will not be able to sell its phone in India if it adds satellite telephony to it.

Most countries will react the same - no country likes to allow communication within its borders that it can't monitor (it's an obvious national security threat).

Worse, it's a crime to bring a satellite phone into India without first getting an NOC, and even then only ones that operate exclusively on INMARSAT will be authorized. China has a similar ban, so if this is real, traveling to China and India (among other countries) with an Apple device is going to turn into a legal minefield unless Apple has figured out something to work around that.

Lol you think Apple wouldn't be aware of this. Obviously they will disable this as soon as you enter their airspace.

>Lol you think Apple wouldn't be aware of this

That...was like the whole point of my comment. Of course they're aware, and of course they aren't going to criminalize their users. This either isn't real, or Apple is going to figure something out to make it so this isn't a problem. What they can do to not criminalize their users is the really interesting question.

BTW, disabling illegal transmitting gear makes no difference to most authorities when importing. The only way to guarantee you won't get busted is to not import it in the first place.

Iridium receivers are already quite manageable in size. An ultra-low-bandwidth version with smaller, cheaper receivers as part of their new constellation doesn't seem that far fetched. You only need 4kbit/s or so (after all the iPhone has plenty of power to run a good voice codec).

Iridium is in LEO and uses L-band

I think this is more likely incorrectly understood leaks. Similar to what occurred with the Nintendo Switch OLED. My guess is the chips and whatnot the iPhone will use will support this but Apple won’t enable it in the software.

I believe this is equivalent to fm radio capabilities in some of the iPhone chips

I think 1 and 2 are connected. Apple sees the cellular communication game from the perspective of their ecosystem. Improving network agnosticism is supportive of that perspective. We see that Apple wants to deliver a premium experience for a premium price. I assume that LEO or Lower than LEO communications could be supported by auxiliary products. A small "hotspot" type device(comm array) to couple with the Apple ecosystem? This future proofs the ecosystem to partner with a communications swarm or launch their own as launch prices drop.

I'd say it is possible in the context of what I stated. But, the article's characterization seems too good to be true.

I don't think this is going to happen, but what would stop Apple from making a deal with Starlink? Or Iridium?

Phones are hard to differentiate these days, but "can be reached anywhere, always, no matter what" may be the last big differentiator left.

> I don't claim to be an expert in any of this, adding this capability an iPhone would be as disruptive as the iPhone itself was.

Would it really? I think satellite communication is something interesting in the outback in some regions where conventional signals aren't available.

Technically GPS is also unidirectional satellite communication, I guess. There are also personal locator beacons for emergencies. Don't really see the application. Maybe the first Apple smartphone gen has reached arthritis-age and goes on cruises?

I've been following this tech for a while and I assure you it's being worked on and looked at seriously.

I absolutely think it will exist in the future. Likely for very low bandwidth text messaging or maybe very low quality calls. Obviously, it will only work outside with line of site.

I don't think it's ready for the next iPhone though. I would be very shocked and surprised if this capability was on the iPhone 13, not surprised if on the 14.

I don't know if you are right or not. But what you are saying reminds me of I think it was the 70's when someone who was involved in early trunked car phones told me that there was no way a phone could be portable that it would take to much power to be in a light enough form factor.

$ASTS and others are launching large LEO constellations starting in March from what I understand. They have major partnerships with Vodafone, AT&T, and more.

Soon we'll just have a Dyson sphere around the earth.

The big problem I see is power. Starlink base uses about 100W. Even for a low bandwidth link I imagine this would drain batteries quick.

Power is not an issue for a very low-bandwidth system like Iridium, which only provides 2400bps. Starlink's bandwidth is 10,000x higher, and in a nutshell that's why they need a lot more power. Starlink also uses an active phased-array antenna, while Iridium uses a passive ("dumb") omnidirectional antenna. This also contributes to a greater power budget for Starlink.

I agree it's fake, there is phones on the market that has phone and internet via satellite but you need a subscription and it's expensive. The average Joe don't have that. I think this is a PR-trick to suggest Apple is relevant and innovative, Apple after Jobs is safe and predictable and not exciting like this

You guys are forgetting that Apple is turning into a service company and already has a subscription product (Apple One) that the average joe may be subscribed to.

And how is the M1 chip not an innovation on its own ?

You are right that transparent high-bandwidth satellite fall back is not in the cards at the moment. I will challenge you that high bandwidth is a hard requirement in this case. If Apple can integrate emergency short text + location capability at a low marginal cost, it will make iPhone platform more attractive to people who aspire spending time outside of cell coverage.

First, let's examine some limitations we are dealing with:

1. On the receiving side the trade is power projected on the receiving terminal vs bandwidth. At lower bandwidth we can have quite reasonable power requirements, think GPS antennas. High bandwidth applications are all limited by FCC power per cm2 projection limits. Without those limits LEO satellites could focus transmit onto a much smaller area and enable high-bandwidth receivers that are basically cell-phone sized. Given that GPS is a thing, we can definitely have low-bandwidth phone integrated satellite antenna.

2. On the transmit side primary trade is again transmit power vs bandwidth. Iridium phones are a thing https://www.iridium.com/products/iridium-extreme/, so low bandwith transmit is feasible.

Overall, I think it is quite unlikely that Apple is adding a dedicated on-handset satellite coms. It is possible, maybe even likely, they will be enhancing existing satellite communication capability or adding external devices. Even if they are enhancing satellite coms the provider is definitely not Starlink because phased array power requirements are staggering for mobile applications. So, assuming there is some truth to this leak, it is maybe 1, probably not 3, and almost definitely not 2:

1. Upgrading the existing GPS capability with new antenna / silicon. Most likely to support other positioning constellations https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-competitors-to-GPS, but in era of SDRs maybe sat signals in general.

2. The claim specifically talks about phone/text calls, to make that happen they will either need to integrate with Iridium or back a new not yet deployed service. On Iridium front there are a couple of problems, but they don't seem insurmountable: Iridium modems are expensive and iPhone power/thermal requirements will mean developing logic that is significantly better than anything on the market. Of course Iridium IP licensing or company acquisition would be big news breaking quite a bit before we see any devices, so this is almost certainly not happening.

3. First party integration of external satellite antenna into iPhone ecosystem. Introducing Apple emergency beacon. Deploy this beacon anywhere in the world and get emergency communications for affordable* price. Basically a modern, Apple sleek, version of https://www.iridium.com/blog/2012/05/23/iridium-connected-de... .

Have you heard of Iridium?

Have you seen the antenna on Iridium devices? Think that's going to fly on an iPhone? Yes, we all know that there is existing technology, no need to ask rhetorical questions. Just saying "Iridium" doesn't solve the problems that still need to be solved, though.

That's still at least an order of magnitude bigger than the space available for this thing inside an iPhone

not that huge of an antenna...

I would argue that you’ve just illustrated my point. It also wouldn’t take a lot to convince me that you’re being facetious.

Well it's a finger-sized antenna. Admittedly all I know about antennas is that size matters. An Iphone is bigger than a finger, why is it inconceivable that it could have a comparable antenna on its surface? Also for an Iphone this would be just one rarely-used feature, it could get by with somewhat worse reception and lower bandwidth than a dedicated satellite phone.

"satellite phone, but doesn't work reliably" doesn't sound like something Apple would waste space and money on.

AirTags, MacBook Pro keyboards, iPhone 4, Siri

The list is endless.

At least two of those are not designed to be bad.

Mobile phones used to have antennas like this in the early 2000s, and now they don‘t anymore. I don‘t know that much about antenna design, but I‘d suspect that there might be a similar opportunity here?

I'm still waiting for the translucent iPhone that Robert Scoble assured us that Apple would definitely announce three or four years ago.

Interesting! I dug into this a bit and it seems this has been brewing in the 5G standard for the past few years and was specifically included in Release 17. Qualcomm seems to have been working closely with both Iridium and Globalstar. Iridium just finished launching it's Next constellation with 5G support to mobile phones one of the goals. Qualcomm had planned to include NTN (Non-Terrestrial-Networks) in the X65 5G modem with band n53 support. The frequency bands are in the s-band, putting it in the 1-2 GHz range. It's possible Qualcomm will be capable of connecting to multiple satellite providers. I see no mention of bandwidth, so it's probably terrible.

This doesn't seem to be Apple's tech specifically, but they could have some interesting things to add to the service bundling and what applications would actually benefit from this connection.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but I am expecting something on the order of text-only iMessages for a low monthly fee.

Honestly, if the coverage is good and it doesn’t cost too much, this would get me to upgrade years before I was planning. I live in an area with frustratingly bad coverage from all providers, and if we ever go on a hike or something a little further out of the city, we get no service at all about 30% of the time. I’d like the extra peace of mind for any potential emergencies.

Emergency satellite beacons are fairly inexpensive, assuming emergencies are your only use case.

I frequently mountain bike alone in areas without reception. I bought a PLB1 so I have an “oh shit” button if something goes wrong (or I run into someone else in a similar situation). No monthly fee was the huge selling point to me. I could care less if I can text or pair my phone.

I feel massively safer having this beacon in my pack. It also makes a great, albeit expensive, gift for friends who are similarly active.

Not the only use-case. It would also be nice to just have some limited communication abilities in areas pretty close to our house where we currently have non-negligible dead zones.

But thank you, I’d never heard of those before.

The Garmin Inreach is a hiker staple, at least in my part of the world.

You can activate a GPS-located SOS and send messages home to check in.

I've wondered why they don't implement LoRA, if they want another type of radio network. You could message other iPhones even if none of you have a cell signal. Low power, doesn't need a big antenna.

This is one of the more intriguing rumors. I'm not even remotely qualified to say if it's feasible or not. But, if it was, I'm curious about pricing. Would users need to contract with one of the existing satellite providers? Or would carriers start offering "Satellite Add-on" for $10/$20/$30 a month for X number of texts?

And would there be free SOS emergency service? Seems like that would be a huge selling point to get people to upgrade. People who wouldn't otherwise want or need satellite communication.

Comparable services charge about $10-20 for a plan with a handful of messages and 50 cent per message in excess of that, and $50 or so for a monthly flat rate.

SOS is only possible with a monthly plan, but I‘d guess that Apple might make that one free (it wouldn‘t make for good press to hear of the inevitable lost hiker holding a fully charged iPhone but no emergency calling plan).

I think SOS would almost have to be free on iPhones for the reason you stated. Besides, it would probably pay for itself because it would be such a great selling point. Could see a fair number of Android users switching for having emergency access available anywhere.

And it would be great free advertising. I'm just imagining the first news story with a lost hiker rescued because of their iPhone. It would make a big impact.

I am not so sure about the advertising. Apple is already doing that with people who get saved by the watch and those don't then to make huge splashy headlines.

the watch doesn't give you connectivity anywhere your phone wouldn't. the people being rescued because they called from help from their watch are being rescued from areas with good cell coverage, they just didn't bring their phone with them.

it's a different story if they're offering satellite connectivity.

Most of the people in the stories were rescued because of the watch fall detection features, which Apple wanted to highlight.

> Could see a fair number of Android users switching

LOL. If Apple is getting this then Android will get this, if not sooner (think Google Fi), since this is built in the radio chip (something Apple still buys from 3rd party).

not if they have exclusive agreements with the satellite provider

Sat providers have SIM cards just like any other provider providing the providings (remember phonejacker?)

What’s stopping Apple from just adding this as a feature on their highest Apple One Plan?

SOS is free if you buy an actual iridium phone. Well, I think so… but I can’t find any sources for that now that I am looking.

You can get them used for 700 usd

> SOS is only possible with a monthly plan

Is that allowed? In normal cell coverage areas, emergency calls are routed by law even without a SIM card.

Not sure, actually – I wouldn‘t be surprised if a helicopter would actually still appear if I‘d press the big red button on mine, but I haven‘t tried.

False alerts are probably a real concern. I had to provide two emergency contacts for the service I‘m using. The operators will call them before dispatching emergency services to catch accidental activations.

A big problem with stolen phones, is that the thieves are often kids, and use the 911 (999, in EU) feature to call in false emergency calls, as that is the only thing on a locked phone that works.

Really, phones are a bad bet, for stealing, these days; especially Apple kit.

In EU, the universal emergency number is 112, not 999. I think the later was UK specific once, but in the UK 112 will also work [0].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/112_(emergency_telephone_numbe...

Yes, because satellite phones are not normal service. Both immersat and iridium connect 112 and 911 to their own operator who will then try to contact authorities where you tell them you are. I'm not surprised that this isn't available unless you're on a monthly plan.

> Both immersat and iridium connect 112 and 911 to their own operator

Not unless that’s changed recently. The last time I tried with Iridium (when in an actual emergency) calling 911 wasn’t supported in any capacity. I had to call someone else and have them relay my call.

Well, this article from 2014 says that all satellite providers support it through operator connection:


> this article from 2014 says that all satellite providers support it

That link actually says only 2 of 4 supported 911/112 in 2014. It explicitly states:

> You will need to obtain the full international access code, country code, and phone number for the local fire, police, or ambulance depending upon the nature of the emergency and store it in your contacts.

for Thuraya and Globalstar (at least back then).

Either way, I said Iridium didn’t and apparently I was wrong (as my example was from 2016). Maybe I had a Globalstar phone that time? Iridium definitely didn’t in 2008 though.

Since the only reason most people have a satphone is for emergencies, what would pay for the service if emergency calls were free?

Having had a satphone it got used for quite a lot of stuff, never for an emergency.

With something like a Garmin inReach, the service is turned completely off if you're not subscribed, so even an SOS message wouldn't be transmitted through the satellite

Maybe this will use something like Lynk communication's system https://techcrunch.com/2020/03/18/lynk-sends-the-first-text-...

>Last year Lynk — then called Ubiquitilink — showed that, from now on, every phone can be a satellite phone. But they’ve spent the last year honing the product and have just demonstrated the real thing: Sending a plain old text message from a “cell tower in space” to a normal phone on the surface.

Has there been a breakthrough on how small an Iridium receiver/phone can be? Because otherwise I'm going to call BS on this report. LEO satellite receivers are typically much bigger than what can be crammed into an iphone.

I have a Garmin InReach Mini. It uses the Iridium satellite network. No calls, but it can do texts and data. It’s dimensions are 23x23mm. It worked quite well in the Arctic wilderness this summer. So I would say putting satellite capability within a phone size form factor seems quite achievable.

I was quite happy to read this news simply for the fact that if true it should hopefully cut into the arm-and-leg price Garmin charges for me to use my InReach to access the satellite network.

From https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/p/592606

> 5.17 x 9.90 x 2.61 cm

That's the same order of magnitude of volume as a phone.

Except the size of the antenna!

The designer dongle bag upsell will have the antenna. Think smart-casual remote adventurer.

Would it work in a forest or inside a cargo container? Or does it need line of site?

Forest (usually) yes, cargo container (most likely) no. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t get a GPS fix, you won‘t be able to use Iridium either.

In addition to the sibling comment, it worked for me inside my tent - so it can work inside some containers provided the signal can make it through.

I used the bigger bulkier one back in Antarctica several years ago and it worked great with the old constellation.

If this was baked into an iPhone I doubt the server would be cheaper.

Small satellite receivers are possible and exist for extremely low bandwidth signals. Text messages could be feasible. There are small devices on the market for sending texts via satellite.

The part of this article about FaceTime calls over satellite sounds like editorialization, though. FaceTime requires a relatively large amount of bandwidth to pull off, which isn’t in the realm of possibility with current systems.

How much data would be available? Apple have been doing stuff adjacent to this NVIDIA announcement (116 bytes/frame of key-point data, with a GAN or a 3D model for reconstruction) from last year since at least Memoji: https://youtu.be/NqmMnjJ6GEg

> Has there been a breakthrough on how small an Iridium receiver/phone can be?

Smallest devices being able to access satcom were the size of a pager 15 years ago, and most functioned like that.

Power envelopes definitely allow for that, especially if you only need to send individual messages of few hundred kilobytes.

I've thought you can have really small satellite phones? Think something like Thuraya SG-2520 from 2007, or NAL Shout Nano.

I would also raise an eyebrow at power consumption/battery life

Iridium operates at 1620 MHz. Many cell signals operate much lower than that (ie some 4G at 700mhz). If you can fit a 4G antenna in a phone you can easily fit one for iridium.

The problem here is the distance to the satellite, which is an order of magnitude bigger than what 4G technology is capable of.

> If you can fit a 4G antenna in a phone you can easily fit one for iridium

The frequency isn’t the issue, it’s the distance it needs to transmit. Increased output power/longer distance needs a bigger antenna. Iridium / Starlink / other LEO satellites are >300 miles above the earth. Your smartphone doesn’t have even remotely enough power to transmit that far, good luck getting even 1/10th that distance for even a very shaky connection.

As a concrete example, your phone’s cell radio transmits at 100-200mW into an antenna which has minimal additional gain. Iridium / Inmarsat phones transmit at around 10W into a higher gain and significantly larger antenna. That’s two orders of magnitude more EIRP in the end.

Apple might be able to do an emergency beacon like transmission from an iPhone into LEO, but assuredly can not do a continuous transmission like in a phone call, even at very poor audio quality, without a relatively massive change in phone dimensions.

Transmit power has nothing to do with antenna length. In fact if you change the antenna length you change the resonating frequency of the antenna. Satellites are also line of sight and most sat antennas radiate straight up instead of multi-directional like cell antennas.

In any case iridium devices usually output max 2w. Same as 4G.

> In any case iridium devices usually output max 2w.

Not according to Iridium’s data sheets I just read and provided values in my post

> Same as 4G

Nope, back in AMPS days power could be up to 2W, but 4G UEs are almost always limited to a maximum of 23dBm (aka 200mW).

> Transmit power has nothing to do with antenna length.

Correct if you are purely talking about antenna design from a generic pov. In the case of a phone, it does matter because you can’t transmit 10W into an omnidirectional antenna pressed up against someone’s ear due to current regulations, so it necessitates moving the antenna further away (hence one reason sat phones have a “whip antenna”, but there are other reasons too). This effectively makes the antenna “larger”.

and there is still no room for a headphone jack.

all the apple ifanboys can't take any criticism, eh?

As someone who has looked extensively into this for marine use I think it’s highly unlikely this is Iridium. Standard Iridium is 2400 baud (no I did not leave out any zeros). Their new Certus service is much faster but the cost is $1600/mo for 1gb of service.

Sounds about right, charge people a couple dollars per minute and you can make a profit even paying 1600/gb.

2400bps is plenty fast for texting and coincidentally was the speed of my first modem!

Does Starlink work for this application?

In principle it could but AFAIK Starlink is restricting installations to fixed land-based applications for now because they want a predictable number of customers in each satellite footprint. I expect they will extend it to marine applications in the future. Cruise ships in the near future (assuming cruise ships ever come back after COVID) will all have some kind of high-bandwidth LEO satellite internet connectivity.

Cruise ships are back, and the business is booming with some fully booked ships.

Vaccine passports and require a PCR plus quick test before departure for all crew and passengers should do the trick.

Buut it's all a balance, see comments here for instance https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/28/travel/cruise-industry-co...

It will only work for coastal vessels until they get the sat-to-sat thing working. I know Elon talked about bouncing the signal off base stations on barges in the middle of the ocean, but not sure if that would be reliable enough.

I'd guess they gonna charge good premium for offering "mobile" service.

This is from Ming-Chi Kuo, a reliable source, so it’s more likely to be true than not. I speculate that this is an obscure feature at first, just like how UWB supported a limited feature set when it was first introduced. I don’t expect to see any associated services to be offered initially.

Find My would be a good fit for a basic application: low bandwidth, low usage frequency, low service quality demand. Communicate locations of iPhones and other devices that support Find My, therefore making the whole network more capable by covering locations without any infrastructure.

Even if you can use it to send text messages, that’s a huge win and a giant selling point.

When I saw the headline my first thought was “are those the European gps satellites?"

It’s not - they’re called Galileo - but it made me think: do modern gps devices only connect to the American GPS satellites or has gps become a catch-all phrase for all the different systems and do iPhone read location from both?

>has gps become a catch-all phrase for all the different systems and do iPhone read location from both?

Modern "GPS" chipsets work with multiple SatNav systems. My phone has GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou and Galileo capability.

Modern smartphones connect to at least three constellations these days (GPS, GLONASS and Galileo), but it‘s indeed become a term used to describe the entire family of technologies. The technical term would be GNSS (global navigation satellite system).

GPS is just the US Space Force network.

iPhones support GPS, Galileo (ESA), GLONASS (Roscosmos), QZSS (JAXA) and so-called assisted GPS – location computed from cell towers.

Assisted GPS is not (solely) the wifi/cell tower triangulation, it’s a technology that provides the receiver with an up to date GNSS satellite ephemeris to reduce time to first fix from minutes to seconds.

A-GPS/A-GNSS is orthogonal to cell site triangulation. It uses the data connection to fetch information to augment the satellite radio signals.

GPS has always been a generic term, the american GPS system was always actually known as NAVSTAR GPS (but usually called "the GPS").

In the space industry (specifically, the part of the industry that writes academic papers on global navigation), "GNSS" is used as the generic term, GPS means the American GPS.

People call the tiny display with underpowered computers that they buy and attach to their car's dashboard "GPS"...

Most devices also support GLONASS these days, because Russia passed a law that you can't sell any devices there that support GPS and not GLONASS

iPhone could have teleport technology and I would still not buy it due to iOS 15's privacy concerns.

Because google phone is so much better? Even if you remove the google suite, it's still very much the wild wild west of privacy whenever you install an app.

In economics terms, my preferences are not complete. You can look it up if you bother to understand why "if A is bad, I don't necessarily buy the alternative B".

There are other non-mainstream mobile platforms, not just iOS and Android.

Sure, they are not yet as polished as those where a cult like controll freak or a private data merchant dump a lot of money, but one has to start somewhere.

but if you ever got enough false positives that the police knock down your door you could just use the teleport feature to get the hell out of there!

Not if Apple and the police know your destination!

Kuo has been probably the most accurate and consistent source for the Apple rumor mill but it's still just that for now: rumored to support.

Hah a feature like this would make iPhone 13 persona non grata for many governments around the world.

Clueless travellers going to places like India and getting their Iphones confiscated sounds interesting

Edit: to clarify India banned satcom devices

Are you sure it is completely banned? I thought you just need permission (in the form of a "no objection certificate") from the Home Ministry in India before you can own and operate a satellite phone?

No chance getting that on travel visa, but you're right


Following the Mumbai terror attacks in 2011, the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS)in India banned the use of “Thuraya, Iridium and other such satellite phones” in Indian waters.

India has (had?) a monopoly on telecommunications. My company couldn’t send voip phones to our Indian employees like we do for employees everywhere else.

Why would this type of feature invoke that type of response?

Internet access that isn't subject to whatever domestic firewalling is in place, presumably.

If you come to China with a foreign SIM card and use data roaming, there are no firewall restrictions there. At least that's what I know from a few years ago. One trick travellers had was to get a SIM card from Hong Kong (again, before the crackdowns) because the roaming prices inside China were good (I can't remember if it was non-existant) but the Internet was not censored...

No specific response is needed as a bunch of countries already have pre-existing rules that require prohibit importing satellite communications devices without special permits even (or perhaps especially for) personal use - it just doesn't get much attention as e.g. Iridium phones are not that common.

But if these countries do nothing and change nothing, this feature means that it would be prohibited to bring iPhone 13s in the country without special permits.

I am sure that Apple will fix this, probably by disabling this feature in India. That is one of the nice things about Apple, when you run into issues like this, things happen, precisely because they are so common.

It’s worse than that - bringing one in just as a tourist could bring heavy consequences and there’s no clear communication about that rule as it is.

Many governments have strict censorship. This bypasses all government controls.

Well, not quite - even satellite internet has base stations somewhere and your internet follows the rules of that country.

Satellites can bounce signals between each other while in orbit to work-around those pesky geopolitical borders.

...this was also part of the plot of Independence Day.

Governments have no control over satellite signals.

They can shoot down the satellites if they break the law though. That's why bypassing China's firewall isn't as easy as sneaking in a Starlink base station

> They can shoot down the satellites if they break the law though.

I don't think they can tractably do that. If India started shooting down US satellites they'd be in for a whole world of problems.

No, but they do have control over people and property.

They have absolutely no way to detect what those people are doing with that property when it comes to satellites though - they can't detect that you're doing it, and they don't have much practical way to block it either.

All competent governments on earth already regulate wireless communications, including satellite communications. Most have found it fairly effective to regulate trade and manufacture of such devices.

At a minimum, it is effective enough that it is a response that would be expected to be elicited if a government found a device undesirable.

I don't know what your experience is in this area, but how do you believe they regulate access to a satellite from another nation flying overhead if your people have the device to access it?

You can just about jam GPS signals locally (within a few km if you pour the resources into it.) Nations are not able in practice to generally jam satellite signals.

We know that nations are not able to do this in practice... because it's how people from those locations are calling out to us.

> how do you believe they regulate access to a satellite from another nation flying overhead if your people have the device to access it?

You don’t. You prevent people from getting access to the device in the first place. There are no countries where people already have iPhone 13s. A country that doesn’t want them, could certainly ban their import.

There ain’t too many people watching HBO on their satellite TVs in North Korea.

> You don’t.


> There are no countries where people already have iPhone 13s.

They have Iridium, Garmin, etc. Any number of satellite devices.

> A country that doesn’t want them, could certainly ban their import.

I think you're super-naive if you think import bans on these devices work in practice, sorry. They're easily concealable.

The question originally posed above, that you responded to, was about a government response to the iPhone 13 specifically.

The point is that they restrict you obtaining said property. Of course not 100%, but how popular would an iPhone that you need to smuggle into the country and that gets you arrested (or at least the device destroyed and you fined) if found by police be?

That feature is very likely going to be geofenced.

That only works until the first jailbreak.

The satellite network knows where you are too and can just choose to not service you if you are in a banned area.

What kind of precision we talk about here and why would they give a damn? It would suck for sailors to get their satcom banned because they appear to be close to the Indian waters but not intending to enter

The precision is probably on the order of the Iridium spot beam size, which as far as I know is 300 km.

As to why: Indian customs officers confiscating all iPhones is probably bad for business (in the long term).

Isn't the baseband a separate chip which would have to be cracked separately? A phone already needs to enforce many RF restrictions, one more doesn't sound like a big deal.

5G from Space: An Overview of 3GPP Non-Terrestrial Networks


I might as well submit that on HN.

Bloomberg's Gurman previously reported on this as a skunkworks project several years ago.


So Apple's trying their hand at their own StarLink, perhaps?

The reporting so far has been about making their devices work with existing satellite constellations.

lol "It is also unclear if satellite features would be free, like GPS, or would come with associated usage charges."

I just don't see how they will fit a good enough antenna. I highly doubt this will happen.

Communicating 100km up is far far easier than communicating 100km sideways. Much less air to go through, and less obstructions. A few space startups out there have missions in the sky right now able to do this. The trick is to but high gain on the satellite side to compensate and phased array communications has been coming a long way to really target the power into a directed path than just beaconing.

> Communicating 100km up is far far easier than communicating 100km sideways

Yes, and no. it depends on the frequency.

However I don't want to put a phased array shitting out 4-15 watts of power at 1.6gigs near my head. I doubt it'll pass the emissions certification either.

Maybe it uses an external antenna that is plugged in the headphone jack...

Like one of these Breitling emergency watches where you pull out a long cord out of the watch and then it sends an SOS signal. Except that with the watch the antenna is single use only to prevent abuse.

oooo. TIL!

The official webpage with absolutely no interesting information: https://www.breitling.com/us-en/emergency/

There are a few blurry fractions of a second of the antenna being deployed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJvyZNHnMGE

What it sounds like over a radio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlC5frFhjqs

It comes with a tester (basically a radio with no tuning knob): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3R7lhLqVo8

Edit: I found some more footage of it being used in this highly dramatic, uh, presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2y-TQSL6XE

It was actually used on Top Gear, because of licencing issues the scene is very difficult to find but someone recorded it:


Oh, nice!

They appear to have reused that footage in another episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgRom5gINtI

Skipping the Americas does not sound like a typical Apple move.

My bet is on Iridium (or possibly Globalstar, although that would be a pretty un-Apple like compromise in quality too).

Inmarsat is the only other option, but I think antenna size/directionality would exclude that as well.

> Skipping the Americas does not sound like a typical Apple move.

I know of one place where Apple does this: in China, and only China, you can buy an iPhone with two physical SIM slots. You can do Dual SIM on iPhones elsewhere, but only with an eSIM.

I know, it's incredibly annoying, I'd love a dual SIM iPhone but you simply can't buy one in the EU other than a grey import from China without warranty. And no, neither of my two operators support eSIM.

I recently saw a Youtube video of someone who bought the sim card "daughter board" and sim tray from a Chinese iPhone and put it in a non-dual sim iPhone and it just worked. I can't remember the channel but it was from one of the fairly popular phone repair ones, so it should be pretty easy to find. The only real downside is that you have to open up your phone to swap the daughter board out and all that entails (the risk of breaking something, warranty, waterproofing, etc)

Iridium, and Globalstar are low earth orbit systems needing very different radio hardware.

It may sound super counterintuitive, but providing a stable link to a geosynchronous satellite on a handheld hardware with tiny antenna is easier than with fast flying low earth orbit satellites.

And I doubt't that voice communications, or even Internet service would be there, just SMS, or pager like functionality most likelly.

Very different than what?

Iridium modems are among the smallest satellite transceivers available, much smaller than GEO ones.

Looking at something like the Garmin InReach shows what‘s possible with Iridium, and I imagine Apple would be throwing a lot more money at the technical/design constraints.

> Very different than what?

Than system communicating with geostationary sats.

Training the circuitry onto one weak, but stable satellite signal is much easier than keeping readjusting, or communicting with multiple satellites at once.

Just like with the GPS, the trick is the super duper accurate, and stable frequency reference.

Iridium (which is LEO) uses omnidirectional antennas.

And it loses the signal frequently if you move

Transmitting short few-byte messages like the InReachs vs making phone calls as claimed here?

Phone calls would be surprising, but in a way that seems vaguely plausible based on current technology.

GSM phones used to have large external antennas too, until one day they simply didn‘t anymore.

addendum: does anyone know if those actually have different requirements? obviously calls are more data and thus need more energy, but from a quick search through public documentation I don't find a clear claim that the Short Burst Data service actually uses a less-demanding encoding.



- Released end of 2018

- 2GB RAM, 16GB storage

- Android 7.1

- $1,200

- C H O N K score: 2.46cm thick

Thuraya isn't low earth orbit though.

Seems to me like the Globalstar Spot messaging service would be an easier service for Apple to support than satellite voice. It's useful for emergencies and other low-bandwidth communication


iPhone 13? Surely this is the kind of feature that would require a redesign not something to introduce in an S year.

Also seems implausible when the 13 is already in volume manufacturing and this is the first we’ve heard of it…

This would be a baseband only change really. Iridium has about the same frequency (1-2 GHz), directionality (omnidirectional antennas are good enough) and power constraints 1-2 Watt) as good old GSM.

It‘s just the spectrum that is very, very expensive (due to a cell being hundreds of kilometers in diameter).

Hasn’t it been an S year for the last 3 years?

Last years iPhone 12 changed to a new square sided design. This year the 13 will be an S design (and leaked renders confirm).

I mean its possible, but without some serious engineering I can't see it happening.

First, leo needs a wedge of RF power. like 10-25watts. (less if you have satellites with a huge power budget)

You have that near your head, that means some _serious_ active antenna design.

Failing that some other engineering is going to be needed on the satellite end.

I can't see the regulators allowing that much RF power near your head.

Heck, I don’t want that much power near my hand. Anything beyond ~5 watts you have to start worrying about RF burns if you happen to touch anything metallic.

I would upgrade for this, I backpack a lot in out of service areas and I would love to use my phone instead of an inReach

Your inreach could likely survive being dropped or submerged or being left on for more than 10 hours better than your phone. Inreach mini if it’s too big!

This headline is so misleading. How about “Investor expects that iPhone 13 will support LEO satellite communication?”

LEO != Law Enforcement Officer

good to see I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines from reading the title alone. thought it was another privacy issue coming to light.

As someone who used to feel excited about Apple… it feels endlessly depressing to me that my instinctive interpretation of this headline was “Law Enforcement Officer” not “Low Earth Orbit”..

Adding onto the SOS idea. It would be cool set an automatic checkin and perhaps an auto SOS if you don’t acknowledge you’re ok every 30 min.

I’m picturing for hiking or kayaking alone in remote areas.

Yes, this is a great idea and anyone going going off the grid should seriously consider something like this for que kings go sideways Having it in an iPhone would make it much more accessible, although you can do this today with the likes of Garmin inReach.

If nothing else it would be cool to be able to send an sos with coordinates from anywhere on earth. You’d think such a small message could conceivably get through to a satellite.

It’s not a question of whether the satellite will hear you, it’s a question of whether they will ignore you because you’re not a subscriber.

Anything to avoid increasing battery life, I guess.

I wonder if it will be compatible with existing networks and which ones.

I'm sure it will communicate with law enforcement quite a bit, yes, if Apple's recent announcements are anything to go by. Though likely not through a satellite. /s

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