A new patent suggests Apple is interested in one day supplying voice and internet data to iPhone users through orbiting satellites.
The company already provides satellite communication on the iPhone 14 lineup. But for now, the Emergency SOS feature can only be used to send text messages to emergency services (and share your location via the Find My app). That could change in the future, though. Apple has just been granted a new patent(Opens in a new window) in the US that concerns a “communication terminal,” which can be fitted on orbiting satellites.
Patently Apple, which spotted(Opens in a new window) the filing, notes that the patent mentions incorporating transceivers on the communication terminal for the purposes of powering voice and internet services.
“Satellite communications data conveyed by transceivers and antenna radiators may include media data (e.g., streaming video, television data, satellite radio data, etc.), voice data (e.g., telephone voice data), internet data, and/or any other desired data,” Apple’s patent says.
Diagrams from Apple’s patent filing.
The same patent mentions using antennas on the communication terminal to establish “wireless links” with potentially hundreds or even thousands of supported devices.
The patent signals that Apple may have major ambitions for providing satellite connectivity to next-generation iPhones, allowing customers to go online even when no cell tower is in reach. In the near-term, Apple has already revealed it’s spending $450 million to expand the satellite networking infrastructure across the US to support the Emergency SOS feature.
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In addition, the company has agreed to help satellite communications provider Globalstar launch new satellites. This includes Apple paying 95% of the costs for the new satellites. In return, Globalstar will allocate 85% of its current and future network to Cupertino.
Apple won’t be alone in the cellular satellite market. T-Mobile is partnering with SpaceX to use the company’s Starlink system to supply voice and internet data to the carrier’s customers. The service is expected to launch sometime next year using existing LTE T-Mobile smartphones.
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