Can iPhone 13 make satellite calls? Things are not that simple

In the world of police and criminal films, a big villain can have no neat suits and reflective sunglasses, but he must have an extraordinary satellite phone.

satellite phone

This may be because the villain’s insidious image has been deeply rooted in the hearts of the people, and using a satellite phone that can do nothing but global communications to create a cold, focused, and monotonous character is a perfect fit.

So the question is, if the iPhone can also make satellite calls, will the villains change their phones?

Apple is going to “go to heaven”?

According to the rhythm of previous years, the news about the new iPhone should have been flying in late August, but this year, due to Apple’s increased efforts to crack down on leaks, many “internal reliable news” have been silent, and the new iPhone has not yet been exposed.

While everyone was waiting for Apple to issue an invitation letter for the new iPhone conference, analyst Ming-Chi Guo released a forward-looking research report on the iPhone 13, which mentioned that the iPhone 13 may support low-orbit satellite communications.

Guo Mingchi analyzed that this may be another network technology upgrade of Apple after wired broadband in 2001 and 3G+4G in 2007, and the technical focus is on low-orbit satellite communications + 5G millimeter waves.

If the prediction comes true, it probably means that users can make calls or send and receive text messages even outside the coverage of 4G/5G, and the “global communication without blind spots” in the movie will enter everyone’s life.

Guo Mingchi’s report further pointed out that iPhone 13 will be equipped with Qualcomm’s customized X60 baseband that supports satellite communications, while other brands wanting to provide satellite communications support need to wait until 2022 to be equipped with Qualcomm’s X65 baseband.

Since Qualcomm and the satellite communication provider Globalstar have been cooperating for a long time, iPhone 13 is most likely to cooperate with Globalstar to provide satellite communication functions. In the future, it will be possible to directly open satellite communication services through local operators.

This is not the first time Apple has been involved in space. As early as 2017, Bloomberg broke the news that Apple had recruited two executives from Google’s spacecraft business and satellite engineering to form a new hardware team.

In 2019, Bloomberg once again broke the news that Apple is studying satellite communication technology and has recruited 12 engineers in the aerospace and satellite industries.

Bloomberg’s analysis stated that Apple’s move is to reduce its dependence on wireless operators and provide more precise positioning functions, thereby improving map services and providing some new features.

Looking at it now, the previously predicted “new function” may be satellite communications.

Guo Mingchi predicts that the combination of low-orbit satellite communications and 5G millimeter waves will not only enhance the iPhone’s network experience, but will also integrate with AR, Apple Car and IoT products to provide a more innovative experience.

Signal has always been a major pain point of the iPhone, including the XS series, 11 series and other previous generations of iPhones using Intel basebands that have been complaining about poor signal.

Even if Apple reconciled with Qualcomm and used the Qualcomm baseband on the iPhone 12 series, the problem of weak signal has not been completely resolved.

Can iPhone 13 respond to users’ expectations this time and use satellite communications to improve signal problems?

iPhone Want to make satellite calls? It’s not that simple

If the iPhone 13 wants to make satellite calls, the first thing to solve should be the antenna problem.

If you want to buy a satellite phone, when you open the shopping websites of major satellite communication providers such as Iridium and Globalstar, you will suspect that you are back 20 years ago.

The uniform thickness, 9-square button, and large antenna design have hardly changed since the birth of satellite phones.


Disassemble a satellite phone and you will find that there is often a huge antenna inside, because the signal transmission power of satellite communication is much higher.

Like the av sender can send TV signal to another room wirelessly, it is not a fantasy to use mobile phones to communicate with satellites. Every time the navigation is turned on, your mobile phone is communicating with satellite positioning systems such as GPS and Beidou. At this time, the mobile phone only needs to receive signals from the satellites, so the chip can do it. It’s very small.

However, satellite calls involve the transmission of two-way signals. The mobile phone needs to transmit signals to the satellite, and it is inseparable from a high-power antenna and modem.

For the iPhone, which has an inch of gold inside, even if Apple can magically shrink the huge antenna as much as possible, it will be difficult to make room for it to be inserted into the fuselage. From the perspective of hardware design, the possibility of making satellite calls with iPhone is not high.

Guo Mingchi’s report mentioned that in February of this year, Qualcomm’s new X65 baseband will support Globalstar’s n53 frequency band, which is considered one of the signs that the iPhone 13 is equipped with satellite communication services.

However, Globalstar’s announcement mentioned that n53 is only a frequency band of the 5G network, which is one of Globalstar’s commercialized terrestrial spectrum services, and has little to do with satellite communications. Currently, it can prove Apple’s patent or industry for satellite calls on the iPhone. Chain evidence is still too little.

To take a step back, even if the iPhone 13 can make satellite calls through methods such as an external antenna, this will not improve the problem of poor signal.

Whether using LEO or GEO satellites for satellite calls, it is required to be used in unobstructed open areas, because it is difficult for mobile phones to receive satellite signals indoors, under trees, and between buildings. Even thick clouds will affect signal transmission.

If you have poor signal in the office, basement, or subway, even using satellite calls will not help, because you can’t connect to the satellite at this time. In other words, it will not be the satellite call that solves the iPhone signal problem.

Low-orbit satellites that have been given too much hope

In the revelations, there is another important point that has been repeatedly mentioned-low-orbit satellites.

Low-orbit satellites refer to orbiting satellites that are only 500 to 2000 kilometers away from the earth’s surface. Different from 35,000 kilometers of synchronous satellites, low-orbit satellites can provide communication transmission with lower latency and higher bandwidth, which allows people to use them to achieve call signals. Even the transmission of the network.

The disadvantage of low-orbit satellites is that the coverage area of ​​a single satellite is too small and the moving speed is very fast. If you want to achieve large-area network coverage, the best way is to increase the number of satellites to avoid signal fluctuations and loss when satellites are moving.

This is why satellite Internet projects such as Starlink and OneWeb often need to launch hundreds of satellites to build a barely usable satellite network.

At present, Iridium, the satellite call provider with the largest number of satellites, has 66 satellites in low satellite orbits, which basically achieves global coverage, while Globalstar has 24 satellites, which can only achieve regional coverage and cannot cover extreme areas such as poles.

The construction of the satellite network requires extremely high costs, and the money burned by the rocket launch is intuitively transferred to the user’s tariff.

Take Iridium’s communication package as an example. The lowest-grade monthly package costs $52 a month. You can only make a 10-minute satellite call and 10 text messages.

Satellite companies like Iridium, Globalstar, and Starlink often have a good vision: to spread network signals to every corner of the world, among which rural and remote areas will be the targets of transformation they repeatedly mentioned.

However, this kind of nonprofit imagination is completely untenable in business. The construction and maintenance costs of satellite networks make them have to charge users high subscription fees to balance expenditures. This has formed a strange circle: people who need signals Those who cannot afford the tariffs rarely have signal problems.

Once the balance of payments is broken, the rate of bankruptcy of satellite communication companies is sometimes faster than the launch of a satellite. This is destined to be a service that will not be a universal service. Satellite communication will continue to be both for Apple and consumers. It is a technology that is too early.

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