The iPhone 14 satellite link may depend on Apple cutting deals with wireless carriers
As Apple’s iPhone 14 event approaches, rumors continue to swirl about the phone’s potential ability to provide emergency communications via satellite networks. On Monday, noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that Apple has “completed hardware tests for this feature” with the iPhone 14, but would have to negotiate business models with carriers if it is to be included.
According to Kuo, “Whether the iPhone 14 will offer satellite communication services depends on whether Apple and operators can settle business models.” Kuo says that this obstacle may have delayed the feature once – according to him, the hardware that allows the iPhone 13 to communicate with satellites was completed, but Apple could not find the end of the business with the carriers. Kuo et al famously predicted that the feature could be shown in 13, which did not happen.
According to Kuo’s latest prediction, the iPhone will “eventually” have satellite communications, but “it’s hard to say exactly when.” If the feature now rests on negotiations with carriers, which could be easy to wrap up, that means it will be difficult to track its progress by analyzing the supply chain or the code in beta.
Carriers may have an incentive to play hardball with Apple, interested in offering their own satellite connectivity features and plans. Last Thursday, T-Mobile announced it was working with SpaceX to launch its own satellite-based emergency communications system, which it says will work with many existing 5G-enabled phones. Meanwhile, AT&T is working with a company called AST SpaceMobile, which aims to provide broadband beamed to phones via satellite. Verizon has also partnered with Amazon’s Quiper satellite project. However, the focus seems to be on providing service to remote cell towers where running fiber or cable is not practical.
Since satellite networks typically operate around the world, Apple would also have to contract with international carriers and potentially governments.
Harold Feld, an analyst at Public Knowledge, doesn’t think carriers will see this as a conflict of interest, however, given how different the technology is and how far in the future things like T-Mobile’s “coverage above and beyond” may be. be — The company says testing will begin by the end of next year. “There’s no reason why this should be a problem from a carrier’s perspective unless there’s some kind of exclusive agreement with SpaceX that no other satellite services are used,” he said. However, he noted, “it’s hard to know without knowing the business system.”
With Kuo and others speculating that Apple is working with a company that has its own satellite communications network, it seems like this is a situation where Apple would need technology or spectrum rights from carriers. However, during its presentation, T-Mobile said it will have to work with messaging app developers to make their systems compatible with its satellite technology — which could be one if Apple wants to use the carrier’s SMS and voice systems in its satellite communications feature. Similar situation.
Feld offered some ideas about what specifications Apple could get with carriers. “It’s something that potential carriers may want to include in their advertising, in which case there may be some negotiations with Apple about who gets credit and the nature of their advertising, whether carriers can include it in their coverage maps,” he said. “It’s got a lot going for it.” Things like whose name is displayed when the phone is connected to satellites instead of cell towers can also play into the negotiation.
Another question that could hold things back – between carriers, Apple, satellite providers and iPhone users, who pays for satellite messaging and how? “In the case of T-Mobile and SpaceX, it’s pretty straightforward. It appears, at least from what we know, that T-Mobile is billing T-Mobile with T-Mobile, which carriers have traditionally favored. They like to maintain the relationship with the customer and include everything in one bill.” Feld said. “If Apple is working independently on this deal with Globalstar and billing it separately, that could be a point of contention with the carriers.”
He also said that from a technical and legal point of view, Apple could include the chip without the cooperation of carriers. “Apple can always say, ‘Yeah, we’re sticking this chip. What are you going to do, kick us out of your network?'” Feld doesn’t think that will happen, though. “But carriers are people you play with for a long time.