iPhone rumour disputed, but Apple working on emergency satellite features

31 Aug 2021

Image: © littlestocker/Stock.adobe.com

Analysts have questioned the prediction that the iPhone 13 will be satellite phone-enabled, but it may eventually get some emergency comms capability.

The rumour that the iPhone 13 will feature satellite phone capability has been disputed by a number of analysts.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo had said that the new Apple offering, due to be announced in the coming weeks, was “likely” to support calling and texting via low earth orbit satellite connectivity. Kuo said the company would probably work alongside operator Globalstar, as both partner with Qualcomm for use of its modems.

However, other comms experts have since publicly disagreed with this analysis. Some have said in particular that this prediction appears to be based on a mistake about the nature of Globalstar’s partnership with Qualcomm.

The upcoming Snapdragon X65 modem will indeed be compatible with the Globalstar’s N53 comms band, but, as Silicon Republic noted, that band is purely a terrestrial one.

Despite this, the rumour caused the satellite operator’s shares to jump by 64pc on Monday (30 August).

At the same time, Bloomberg reports that Apple is indeed working on implementing some limited emergency satellite communication capability for iPhones in future. The outlet cited “a person with knowledge of the situation”.

Among the features being developed is Emergency Message via Satellite, which will allow users to send limited-length messages to emergency services and emergency contacts even when outside the range of cell towers.

Another is said to allow iPhone users to report emergencies to authorities. Using satellite connectivity, a person can specify the nature of the incident to emergency services, similar to a 112 call in Europe. The phone will also transmit information such as location and the owner’s medical ID, and may notify emergency contacts.

This information comes with a number of caveats, Bloomberg says. First and foremost, this capability is not expected to launch in 2021. This directly contradicts Kuo’s report that satellite connectivity will launch alongside the iPhone 13 in September, though that phone may have the necessary hardware built into it.

Second, though these emergency features will rely on satellite-capable hardware, there are no plans to make general texting and calling via satellite available on the iPhone, as had been rumoured.

Third, and finally, this capability will not be supported in every country. Despite the global reach of satellite networks, deployment of the iPhone emergency communication service will depend on local regulatory frameworks.

Apple has yet to publicly comment on the issue.

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin