Low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite operator Globalstar this month announced it has “signed a term sheet with a large, global customer to begin deploying Band 53 in the U.S. and beyond.” Who is this large, global customer? The rumor mill says it’s Apple. This is a significant opportunity that will take time, but signs point towards success.” Globalstar says it will share more information when allowed.
This announcement comes just months after Globalstar said that an unidentified “potential customer” had invested $300+ million to finance the purchase of 13 new satellites.
The scuttlebutt is that Apple is behind these deals, with the goal of using Globalstar to provide satellite connectivity to a future iPhone. Globalstar says it has been working with this customer since 2020 “in connection with the assessment of a potential service utilizing certain of our assets and capacity.”
In 2021, Bloomberg News cited anonymous sources to report that Apple was considering adding satellite-enabled communications to its mobile devices. And whoever the customer is, they have already paid some $430 million just in “assessment” of a potential service, so they must have deep pockets…
Globalstar’s exclusive electromagnetic real estate is located near frequencies reserved for terrestrial uses. While past efforts to make money off this spectrum ran into regulatory roadblocks, it remains valuable, in theory. “Everybody in the space industry gets all googly-eyed over” it, says Caleb Henry, a senior analyst at Quilty Analytics, because it promises the ability to seamlessly link affordable mobile phones to both cell towers and satellites.
MacDailyNews Take: Last August, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that the Qualcomm X60 baseband chip inside the iPhone 13 family (subsequently confirmed in a teardown by iFixit) will support low-earth orbit satellite communications. He based this on Qualcomm’s work with – drumroll, please – Globalstar.
“There are many potential scenarios for Apple’s business model cooperation with Globalstar,” Kuo wrote. “The simplest scenario is that if the user’s operator has already teamed with Globalstar, the user can directly use Globalstar’s satellite communication service on the iPhone 13 through the operator’s service.”
Apple could simply flip a switch and enable this service for the already over 100 million iPhone 13 users and, of course, use the feature to help sell the forthcoming iPhone 14 series, too.
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