Following the announcement that Apple is investing in satellite communications operator Globalstar, the two companies appear poised to compete in mobile satellite connectivity.
Apple is collaborating with Globalstar to power the iPhone 14’s Emergency SOS feature, which was unveiled by Cupertino on Wednesday and works by relaying the signal to satellites in Earth’s orbit.
The satellite Emergency SOS function will be available in November only to iPhone 14 users in the United States and Canada. However, it appears that Apple has bigger plans for satellite connectivity in the future. The agreement(Opens in a new window) states that the company will pay 95% of the funding required to assist Globalstar in launching new satellites. In exchange, Globalstar intends to devote “85% of its current and future network capacity” to supporting Apple’s services.
The investment in Globalstar may also clash with SpaceX’s Starlink project, which is developing its own mobile satellite business. On Tuesday, Elon Musk’s company filed a request with the FCC for access to the 1.6GHz and 2.4GHz bands in order to power Starlink’s mobile-satellite service, which promises to provide internet access in cellular dead zones.
The 2.4GHz band is noteworthy because Globalstar intends to use it for the iPhone 14’s satellite connectivity feature. SpaceX notes in its FCC filing(Opens in a new window) that “Globalstar has enjoyed exclusive access to portions of the 1.6/2.4 GHz bands, despite the Commission’s failure to grant Globalstar perpetual exclusive use of the bands.”
Globalstar did not respond immediately to a request for comment. However, the company may object to SpaceX’s request for spectrum access due to concerns that Starlink’s mobile service will interfere with Globalstar’s own satellite radio communications.
SpaceX raises interference concerns in its FCC filing, but claims that it can operate in the 1.6/2.4GHz bands “without causing harmful interference to other licensed systems.”
“While sharing between multiple co-frequency operators may have been difficult when the Commission last reviewed these bands 15 years ago,” the company added, “satellite and communication system technology has evolved significantly, and shared use of satellite spectrum has advanced significantly.”
Because both SpaceX and Globalstar intend to use the same 2.4GHz spectrum, it’s possible that SpaceX will try to expand the mobile Starlink service to Apple iPhones. (According to a 2017 presentation(Opens in a new window) from Globalstar, the 1.6GHz band is also used for uploading via satellite phones.)
SpaceX has yet to reveal what the mobile satellite Starlink service will look like for consumers, or whether it will necessitate the purchase of new hardware. However, the company announced a partnership with T-Mobile last month to use Starlink to provide messaging, and then voice and data, to T-Mobile phones when they enter cellular dead zones. The satellite access, on the other hand, will come via a different band in the 1.91 to 1.995GHz spectrum, which T-Mobile already owns and can use with many existing phones.