iPhone 13 might offer emergency satellite communication, too

iPhone 13 might offer emergency satellite communication, too

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iPhone 13 might offer emergency satellite communication, too
It won't be just the iPhone 14 communicating with satellites.
Photo: Cult of Mac

It might not be necessary to trade in an iPhone 13 for the iPhone 14 to get the upcoming model’s satellite communication capabilities. Apple’s 2021 handset reportedly already has this feature – it’s just not activated.

It’s possible Apple will announce at a September 7 event that both the iPhone 13 and 14 will be able to send emergency texts via satellite.

Satellite communications via iPhone 13 and 14

While large swaths of the world have cellular coverage, there are still huge areas without it. That’s a problem for hikers, boaters and anyone traveling through the remote areas without cell service.

The answer is satellites in low Earth orbit, within a few hundred miles of the planet’s surface. The most recent and the upcoming iPhone can communicate with these, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo from TF International Securities.

“I learned that Apple had already completed the hardware development of satellite communication in the iPhone 13,” Kuo said Monday in a note to investors. “Satellite communication is one of iPhone 14’s test items before mass production, and Apple had completed hardware tests for this feature.”

Apple is reportedly negotiating with Globalstar, which owns a constellation of LEO satellites. How much Apple or users will pay to have iPhones connect to this has been the sticking point.

Is this for real?

Reports that the iPhone 13 can talk with satellites via its Qualcomm X60 baseband chip first surfaced in 2021. Both Kuo and Bloomberg leaked info on it at that time. But it didn’t happen, obviously.

And it might not be physically possible. “iPhone 13 doesn’t even feature 5G band n53, the ground-based 5G band owned by satellite operator Globalstar,” according to a report from PCMag.

But Kuo insists business has held up iPhone satellite communication, not technology. Apple will have to partner with a satellite provider, with tipsters pointing to Globalstar. “Whether iPhone 14 will offer satellite communication service depends on whether Apple and operators can settle the business model,” said Kuo. He made a similar comment on Monday about the iPhone 13.

For emergencies only

Multiple recent leaks point to iPhones being able exchange text messages with satellites, and they agree that will will be for crises only. “iPhone 14’s satellite communication mainly provides emergency texting/voice services,” says Kuo.

In other words, people won’t be able to send vacation photos to friends from deeply remote areas. Apple’s handsets may only work with 911 or 999 or similar emergency services.

So the question remains, what will it cost? Apple might pay the satellite provider for all its users, or iPhone owners who expect to need it might have to pay a subscription fee to Globalstar.

Looking ahead, company has reportedly also discussed bringing such a feature to Apple Watch at some point in the future.

These questions will likely be answered at Apple’s September 7 event. This has a star-studded “far out” theme, which could be a clue that satellite communications are on the agenda. Or it might mean something else, or nothing at all.