Apple and SpaceX appear poised to compete in mobile satellite connectivity on news that the iPhone maker is investing in satellite communications operator Globalstar.
Apple is working with Globalstar to power the iPhone 14’s Emergency SOS feature, which Cupertino debuted on Wednesday and works by relaying the signal to satellites in Earth’s orbit.
The satellite Emergency SOS function is slated to arrive in November only for iPhone 14 users in the US and Canada. But it appears Apple has larger ambitions for satellite connectivity down the line. According to the agreement(Opens in a new window), the company is going to pay 95% of the funding needed to help Globalstar to launch new satellites. In return, Globalstar plans on allocating “85% of its current and future network capacity to support” Apple’s services.
Emergency SOS on iPhone 14
The investment in Globalstar could also clash with SpaceX, which is working on its own mobile satellite business through Starlink. On Tuesday, the Elon Musk-led company submitted a filing to the FCC, requesting access to the 1.6GHz and 2.4GHz bands to power Starlink’s mobile-satellite service, which promises to deliver internet access in cellular dead zones
The 2.4GHz band is notable because Globalstar plans on using the same spectrum for the iPhone 14’s satellite connectivity feature. In its FCC filing(Opens in a new window), SpaceX notes: “Globalstar has enjoyed exclusive access to portions of the 1.6/2.4 GHz bands, even though the Commission did not provide Globalstar with perpetual exclusive use of the bands.”
A slide from a Globalstar presentation showing which bands its own satellite phones use.
Globalstar didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But it’s possible the company could oppose SpaceX’s request for the spectrum access over concerns Starlink’s mobile service will interfere with Globalstar’s own satellite radio communications.
In the FCC filing, SpaceX itself brings up the interference issues, but says it can operate in the 1.6/2.4GHz bands “without causing harmful interference to other licensed systems.”
Recommended by Our Editors
“Although sharing between multiple co-frequency operators may have been difficult when the Commission most recently reviewed these bands 15 years ago, satellite and communication system technology has evolved significantly and shared use of satellite spectrum has advanced considerably,” the company added.
It’s also possible SpaceX could try to expand the mobile Starlink service to Apple iPhones, since both the company and Globalstar plan on tapping the same 2.4GHz spectrum. (A 2017 presentation(Opens in a new window) from Globalstar shows the company also uses the 1.6GHz band for uploading purposes through its satellite phones.)
SpaceX has yet to reveal what the mobile satellite Starlink service will look like for consumers, or if it’ll require consumers to buy new hardware. But last month, the company announced a partnership with T-Mobile to use Starlink to supply messaging, and then voice and data, to T-Mobile phones when they enter cellular dead zones. However, the satellite access will arrive through a different band in the 1.91 to 1.995GHz spectrum, which T-Mobile already owns and can use with many existing phones.
Like What You’re Reading?
Sign up for Fully Mobilized newsletter to get our top mobile tech stories delivered right to your inbox.