iPhone 13 satellite rumour may not be about satellites at all

It sounds like the iPhone 13 will support ground spectrum owned by a satellite company, not satellite connectivity

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Update 08/31/2021 at 11:03am: More details about Apple’s potential satellite functionality in iPhones emerged courtesy of a new report from Bloomberg’s reliable Mark Gurman. Judging by that report, I may have jumped the gun in criticizing the below rumour about the iPhone 13 offering satellite connectivity.

To be clear, a future iPhone may offer the ability to send emergency messages over satellite. Gurman’s report clarifies that the iPhone 13 might offer the hardware to do this, but the software feature may not be ready for when the iPhone 13 launches. Still, the ability to send emergency messages via satellite is a far cry from ‘the iPhone 13 will be a satellite phone,’ so some of my criticism stands.

Over the weekend, rumours about the iPhone 13 offering satellite connectivity proliferated online following an Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo report (via MacRumors).

The rumour goes like this. Kuo reported that the iPhone 13 would include Qualcomm’s X60 modem, which includes low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite comms capabilities. While that alone doesn’t mean much beyond that the iPhone 13 would technically have the hardware for satellite comms, Kuo also suggested Apple would partner with Globalstar, a company that offers satellite phone service.

Several publications jumped on the rumour, writing optimistic statements about how the iPhone 13 could be a great phone for yacht owners or suggesting possible connections to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which operates over a thousand LEO satellites for the Starlink internet service. However, it seems many of these publications may have jumped the gun, at least according to PCMag’s Sascha Segan.

In a tweet thread, Segan breaks down the rumour and what he thinks is really going on and, surprise! — it has little to do with satellites.

Segan notes that Globalstar is a satellite company that also owns a bunch of terrestrial spectrum in the 2.4GHz zone called ‘b53/n53.’ Globalstar has been trying to use b53/n53 for private networks and Licence Assisted Access (LAA), an LTE feature that leverages unlicensed spectrum (such as 2.4GHz and 5GHz used in Wi-Fi) to boost network performance.

Additionally, Segan points out that the Qualcomm X60 modem doesn’t support b53/n53, while Qualcomm’s X65 modem does. According to Segan, the iPhone 13 may come with an “x60-and-a-half” that’s basically the X60 modem with b53/n53 support.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean the iPhone 13 will connect to satellites — Globalstar’s b53/n53 bands are ground-based and intended to enhance LTE. At the same time, it’s easy to see where the confusion came from. ‘iPhone 13 has b53/n53’ easily becomes ‘iPhone 13 has Globalstar,’ which in turn becomes ‘iPhone 13 has satellite.’

Of course, we won’t know for certain until Apple unveils the iPhone 13, which is expected to happen during one of the many upcoming Apple events this fall. But, I’d say it’s a safe bet the iPhone 13 won’t have satellite connectivity.  Have you seen a satellite phone? Those things are huge, and I doubt Apple would make an iPhone large enough to incorporate a satellite receiver.

Source: @saschasegan Via: MacRumors