The reports on satellite communications from a couple of iPhone 13 have been the subject of discussions, and it shows that there might be a misunderstanding to some degree.
Although pointed out as probably an emergency/backup communications system for remote areas only, some are digging more and suggesting that satellites might not be involved at all.
GPS is a type of radio signal from satellites that can be received by all iPhones. Ground-based devices like the iPhone received broadcasts of identity, position, and exact time from a ring of satellites.
The GPS chips then calculate the location of the device through the examination of the signal transmission and the time of arrival to the phone.
To clear out one thing, the iPhones can’t send data to the satellites.
Apple has been known to consider the possibility of creating iPhones with added satellite communication features, such as internet connection in remote areas.
Reports on the iPhone 13 satellite communications
A report from Kuo cited a particular radio chip to be used in the iPhone 13 according to him.
In an investor note, Ming-Chi Kuo today said that he expects the upcoming iPhone 13 models to feature a low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite communication mode.
This would allow an iPhone 13 user to send messages and make phone calls, even when they are not within standard 4G/5G cell tower coverage […]
Kuo says that the iPhone 13 will use a customized version of the Qualcomm X60 baseband modem chip. This chip will support communications over satellite.
A Bloomberg report seemed to have supported this and mentioned that the satellite feature will be available for emergency use only. It will offer a text-only option.
Specifically, Bloomberg says Apple is developing two related features, using satellite connectivity. Apple will apparently integrate emergency satellite messaging into the Messages app, allowing users to contact emergency services and close friends without any cell signal.
Bloomberg says emergency messages would appear as gray bubbles, joining the traditional iMessage blue and SMS green. Phone calls may eventually be supported as well.
The second feature would be a more direct reporting mechanism for major emergencies, like plane crashes and sinking ships.
Issues from these reports
Many critics shared their views on Twitter citing some questions, such as Sacha Segan. The PCMag’s mobile and 5G specialist noticed two issues.
One, Kuo mentioned the Qualcomm X60 chip but it doesn’t support the B53/N53 radio spectrum. However, Kuo added that it can be a “modified” variant of the X60 compared to the X65 chip.
Qualcomm’s x65 modem supports b53/n53 but the x60 does not. However, the Qualcomm modem in the iPhones may be an… erm, x60-and-a-half. In other words, it could be an x60 + b53/n53.
The more pressing issue is that B53/N53 is not intended for satellite communications. This is not the frequency band for satellite phones.
Globalstar owning a slice of this spectrum may have caused this confusion. However, it stays within the 2.4GHz zone – which means, it’s a ground-based LTE band.
There are ground stations indeed owned by Globalstar that are used for its satellite communication, however, the terrestrial network is what they are trying to sell here.
In December 2016, the FCC adopted rules permitting Globalstar to deploy a terrestrial low-power broadband network using 11.5 MHz of the Company’s 2.4 GHz spectrum. This authority provides increased capacity for the nation’s terrestrial broadband spectrum inventory and furthers the Commission’s continued policy to increase spectrum efficiency […]
The Globalstar terrestrial band provides 11.5 MHz (3.7 Billion MHz-POP) across the entire United States […]
Apple may have a multi-stage plan or this was just a case of misunderstanding that Globalstar offers satellite phone services.
However, Apple will most likely launch the emergency backup text system offering coverage in remote areas outside existing services. This might begin as ground-based.
Then later on, Apple may add the satellite communications features.
It is uncertain what will be included in Apple’s iPhone 13 launch. If some features are not announced right away, they might be avoiding mishaps like the Airpower, if the plans don’t work.