Could Apple sidestep 5G with satellites?

Boeing 702X satellite (image: Boeing)
Boeing 702X satellite (image: Boeing)

Apple has a group working on space satellites, antennae, and wireless technology as the company looks for new ways to beam data directly to Apple devices.

Mike Dano for Light Reading:

If Apple commercializes the technology, at least one analyst believes the result “could have some pretty serious implications” for the world’s telecom operators.

Roughly a dozen Apple employees, led by former aerospace engineers Michael Trela and John Fenwick, are working on the project, and that they report to an executive under Dan Riccio, Apple’s SVP of hardware engineering, who oversees the company’s iPhone hardware. Jennifer Fritzsche, an analyst with Wall Street research firm Wells Fargo, pointed out that the project would allow Apple to “essentially bypass carriers and towers which service them.”

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Apple will commercialize the technology, nor is it clear exactly how Apple might make use of satellite Internet connections… Companies like Iridium and Globalstar have struggled for years to grow their satellite Internet businesses, while a new crop of players ranging from Facebook to Amazon to SpaceX to OneWeb are in the early stages of deploying thousands of tiny, low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that are intended to offer much faster and cheaper satellite-based Internet services than previous offerings. For example, OneWeb reported last year that it was able to clock speeds of 400Mbit/s with latency of 32 ms from its initial batch of LEO satellites…

In the meantime, it’s clear that Apple isn’t eschewing 5G completely. The company is widely expected to release 5G-capable iPhones later this year.

MacDailyNews Take: Yes, so there’s no “sidestepping” 5G, but satellites could someday be an avenue for connectivity. As we wrote last month: If this is a way to provide internet connectivity to iPhones sans carriers or even just a way to deliver Messages, Maps/GPS data, and/or Apple TV+ – or even just filling coverage gaps around the globe – without the ISP middleman, it would certainly be a defining, distinctive, nearly impossible-to-replicate feature that would set Apple products even further above the knockoff brigade’s raft of inferior facsimiles. And, of course, real competition in broadband providers is desperately needed in many parts of the U.S. and the world.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Ladd” for the heads up.]


  1. Idiots.

    I HAVE done communications through Starlink, OneWeb, O3b, Telesat LEO, and others. For me it’s not theory. I’ve done it. Period.

    The highest standard data rate through any of them is 1.2 Gbps — in their current designs. (That will likely change in 10+ years from now.) To do even 100 Mbps through ANY of them requires a bigger antenna and amplifier than is in ANY cell phone at the moment. Yes, ANY cell phone. It would require a handset bigger than the original Iridium handsets.

    If you just want to do low bandwidth stuff (e.g., voice) then just look at today’s Iridium handsets. They are fairly well optimized (as are the current satellites) for satellite/handset communicaitons.

    There’s some physics involved. You’re not going to get around that.

    Plus several of these (e.g., Starlink and Telesat LEO) use proprietary waveforms that they put into ASICs. If you want to communicate through thier constellation of satellites you either use their equipement or you pay them big dollars to use their ASICs. Might they change their tune if Apple says they’ll put their waveforms into iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches? Maybe, but I don’t see SpaceX giving up that revenue stream from their ASICs. Even then there’s the physics problem.

    Just as one point of fact (physics): the free space loss of the RF signal between your handset and the satellite is 10 million times as great to the lowest of these planned constellations as it is between your cell phone and the nearest cell tower. (Greater range and different frequency band.)

    If it were a factor of ten or even a factor of 100, I’d say it’s definitely going to happen. Even if it were a factor of 1,000 I’d say it’s maybe going to happen. But a factor of 10 million is too hard to ignore.

    1. Oh, and that 702x satellite is designed for geostationary orbit. That’s 35,786 km above the equator. There is no commercial handset out there of any kind that allows you to walk around and communicate through any 702x satellite.

  2. Latency is always the issue with satellites so their value is limited for anything requiring intensive I/O throughput. I used to work with software on remote oil rigs in ocean that needed Sat connectivity for apps and it was a nightmare to do anything beyond very basic, small load communication.

    However I do have a Garmin Reach device that I use when in remote mountain locations to stay in touch for emergencies. Has saved my ass just this past year when I crashed dirt bike crossing a river in Rocky Mountains and bike wouldn’t start. Was well worth the month for the Garmin subscription and was able to text someone my location and got picked up.

    So big fan of satellites when absolutely nothing else is available.

  3. Why should people who have no receiver tech also want to get zapped from on high — in addition to WiFi — especially since constant zapping has not been proven safe? Will there be no RF quiet zone left?

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