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Sunday, January 29, 2023

iPhone 13 may Support Satellite Connectivity, Says Apple Analyst

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has some new insights on Apple’s iPhone 13 that he wants to share.

In a new investor note, the TF International Securities analyst, who has a lengthy history of calling out Apple’s updates before they go public, predicted that the next iPhone would include a low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellite communications mode (via 9to5Mac). Simply send your calls or texts to space and wait for them to be returned to a ground recipient.

The functionality would allow users to use basic iPhone 13 functionalities even when they are outside of cellular tower range. Apple’s usage of a customized Qualcomm X60, a baseband modem chip that handles satellite communications, would enable the projected LEO mode, according to Kuo.

In a hypothetical LEO mode, it’s unclear which call and/or data functionalities would be supported. It’s also unclear whether using the feature would incur an additional charge, comparable to how using a cellular device in roaming mode usually incurs a higher cost.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Apple may be looking to the stars for assistance in beaming cell signals over the world. Bloomberg reported in late 2019 that such a transfer could take place during the next five years as of 2019.

Back then, the details were even more fuzzy. According to Bloomberg, Apple was unsure at the time of how it would employ satellites or who would own such satellites. Although news that Apple CEO Tim Cook was personally interested in making things happen with satellites made the project’s chances appear more concrete at the time, the firm wasn’t sold on the initiative as a whole.

The addition of a LEO mode to the iPhone 13 would come at a time when Apple’s tech rivals are increasingly looking to the skies for inspiration. SpaceX is the most advanced, with a beta program in place since late 2020 for its Starlink program. As of late June 2021, there were at least 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbit – a significant number, but far short of the 10,000 or more that will be required to maintain a stable network as more customers sign on.

Amazon also has a plan to enter the satellite communications market directly, dubbed Project Kuiper, which was initially unveiled in 2019. That one, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as far along. In April, Amazon announced a collaboration with the United Launch Alliance that will see the first of its satellites launched into orbit by Atlas V rockets over the course of nine flights. However, no one has yet departed the planet.

None of this has anything to do with Apple’s ambitions, although consumer technology is frequently influenced by trends. Apple’s anticipated move to add device support for satellite communications aligns with a broader movement in the industry that has so far been spearheaded by other major competitors.

Apple is likely to unveil the iPhone 13 — which is also expected to include a high-refresh rate, always-on display — along with other new product announcements and reveals in September, as is customary at this stage. There’s no news on when it’ll happen, but if history is any indication, it’ll be within the next several weeks.

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