First, a rumor from the blog Phone Arena. “Not to be outdone by Apple and Huawei, Samsung is planning to incorporate satellite connectivity options in its Galaxy phones as well, hints leakster Ricciolo.”
But it’s not the first rumor we’ve heard about phone vendors and satellites. “Cringley Predicts Apple is About to Create a Satellite-Based IoT Business ,” read the headline in June. Long-time tech pundit Robert X. Cringely predicted that Apple would first offer some limited satellite-based functionality,
But he’d also called those services “proxies for Apple entering — and then dominating — the Internet of Things (IoT) business. “After all, iPhones will give them 1.6 billion points of presence for AirTag detection even on sailboats in the middle of the ocean — or on the South Pole…. Ubiquity (being able to track anything in near real time anywhere on the planet) signals the maturity of IoT, turning it quickly into a $1 TRILLION business — in this case Apple’s $1 TRILLION business.” And beyond that, “in the longer run Cupertino plans to dis-intermediate the mobile carriers — becoming themselves a satellite-based global phone and data company [and] they will also compete with satellite Internet providers like Starlink, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper.”
So how did Cringely react last week when Apple announced “Emergency SOS” messaging for the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus — via communication satellites — when their users are out of range of a cell signals? He began by wondering if Apple was intentionally downplaying the satellite features:
They limited their usage case to emergency SOS texts in the USA and Canada, sorta said it would be just for iPhone 14s, and be free for only the first two years. They showed a satellite app and very deliberately tried to make it look difficult to use. They gave no technical details and there was no talk of industry partners.
Yet there were hints of what’s to come. We (you and I, based on my previous column) already knew, for example, that ANY iPhone can be made to work with Globalstar. We also knew the deal was with Globalstar, which Apple never mentioned but Globalstar confirmed, more or less, later in the day in an SEC filing. But Apple DID mention Find My and Air Tags, notably saying they’d work through the satellites even without having to first beseech the sky with an app. So the app is less than it seems and Apple’s satellite network will quickly find its use for the Internet of Things [Cringely predicts]….
Apple very specifically said nothing about the global reach of Find My and Air Tags. There is no reason why those services can’t have immediate global satellite support, given that the notification system is entirely within Apple’s ecosystem and is not dependent on 911-type public safety agreements.
Maybe it will take a couple years to cover the world with SOS, but not for Find My, which means not for IoT — a business headed fast toward $1 trillion and will therefore [hypothetically] have a near-immediate impact on Apple’s bottom line.
Speculating further, Cringely predicts that Globalstar — which has ended up with vast tracts of licensed spectrum — will eventually be purchased by a larger company. (“If not Apple, maybe Elon Musk.”)
And this leads Cringely to yet another prediction. “If Elon can’t get Globalstar, he and his partners will push for the regulatory expansion into space of terrestrial 5G licenses, which will probably be successful.”
This will happen, frankly, whether SpaceX and T-Mobile are successful or not, because AST&Science and its investors AT&T, Verizon and Zodafone need 5G in space, too, to compete with Apple. So there WILL eventually be satellite competition for Apple and I think the International Telecommunication Union will eventually succumb to industry pressure.
And by the end Cringely is also speculating about just how Apple will come up with innovative new satellite designs on a faster schedule…