Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is usually quite trustworthy when it comes to rumors about Apple, and he says in a note to investors that the iPhone 13 will support low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity. This would be the first smartphone aimed at the general public to bring this feature… but there is good evidence that this should not happen – everything seems to be a mess involving Globalstar.
According to the Apple Insider, Kuo claims that the iPhone 13 will have hardware capable of connecting to low-orbit satellites, being able to make calls and send messages without the need for a 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G connection. This would be possible thanks to a Qualcomm X60 modem customized to support bands 53 and n53 used by Globalstar, a satellite communications provider.
For Kuo, the “simplest scenario” would be for Globalstar to partner with local operators so that the user can access the satellite communication service on the iPhone 13.
The rumor gets more interesting when you remember that one of the companies providing satellite connectivity in low orbit is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, with its Starlink internet. It has 1,500 satellites in space and 100,000 customers.
Amazon, meanwhile, has Project Kuiper, whose first internet satellites are due to launch this year. Hughesnet and OneWeb have teamed up to launch a competitor for Starlink; and Immarsat promises a space network that combines with terrestrial 5G.
However, to communicate via the Ka/Ku spectrum with the low-orbiting satellites, it is necessary to use high-powered antennas – this is something that applies as much to Starlink as to other companies. That’s why this type of service is mainly applied to fixed broadband, not a mobile device like the iPhone.
Most satellite cell phones have a visible antenna. Would Apple let this be built into the iPhone? Did she have a hood exclusively to help relay the signal? This question also remains.
iPhone 13, Globalstar and the Satellite Confusion
Also, the rumor about the iPhone 13 and Globalstar may have nothing to do with satellites.
Sascha Segan, telecommunications analyst at PCMag, explains on Twitter that Globalstar is a satellite company, but also has a terrestrial spectrum band in the 2.4GHz zone – these are bands 53 and n53 that we mentioned before.
This Globalstar spectrum can be used only in terrestrial communications, not with satellites: for example, in November 2020, the company was authorized to add frequencies b53 and n53 to 4G and 5G in Brazil, Canada and Kenya; it is up to the operators to adopt this or not.
Globalstar has been trying to get the b53/n53 bands going for about a decade. Initially, the idea was not to use them in cellular connections, but in Wi-Fi. The technology, called TLPS (Low Power Terrestrial Service, its acronym in English), is in the 2.4 GHz band. industry to adopt this standard, the company criticized the 5 GHz Wi-Fi, which ended up winning the dispute.
In 2017, Globalstar obtained authorization from the FCC – equivalent to Anatel in the USA – to use band 53 in cellular networks. It won a version for 5G, called n53, which is part of the official standard. Now the company’s job is to convince operators to use these frequencies; for this, cell phone manufacturers must also adopt compatible modems.
The standard Qualcomm X60 modem doesn’t support b53 or n53, but Kuo claims the iPhone 13 will have a custom version that plugs into those frequencies. Qualcomm X65, slated for 2022, must natively support both bands. However, none of this has to do with satellite connectivity, as the rumor suggests.