Tim Farrar, a satellite communications consultant at California-based research firm Telecom, Media and Finance Associates, believes that Apple is likely announce its long-expected satellite connectivity feature for the iPhone 14 at its “Far out” September 7th special event.
In a series of tweets, Farrar said T-Mobile’s and SpaceX’s satellite connectivity announcement yesterday was likely intended to pre-empt Apple’s announcement of its own satellite connectivity feature for the iPhone in partnership with Globalstar. Apple is holding a media event at Steve Jobs Theater on September 7, and the event’s “Far Out” tagline and starry sky artwork have fueled speculation about a satellite connectivity announcement.
In February, Globalstar announced that it acquired 17 new satellites to provide “continuous satellite services” to a “potential customer,” which might be Apple.
Quick summary of TMUS/SpaceX announcement: proposed text/voice service is copycat of ASTS plan, i.e. using cellular spectrum. FCC has dithered for over 2 years about whether to permit that non-conforming use, to date all we have is an experimental authorization for 1 sat.
TMUS said it will use nationwide PCS spectrum: that means G block (1910-1915MHz UL/1990-95MHz DL). That wasn’t part of SpaceX’s July 2022 Gen2 modification application, implying any approval there will be even further delayed.
Most likely regulatory approach is making a limited experimental application (<=10 satellites?) which would be consistent with suggestion that initial trial users might have to wait up to 30 mins to send messages. But given how many half-formed concepts were put forward, the only possible conclusion is that this was designed to pre-empt next week's Apple announcement of their own free messaging service with Globalstar. That should begin as soon as the new phone is released. Importantly, Apple will be using existing satellite spectrum, with no need for any rule changes from the FCC. However, the service will be limited just to two-way texting - no voice calls or photos unless they invest in a new multi-billion dollar constellation. The Feb 2022 order for 17 new satellites was a stop-gap for service continuity and it is unknown whether Apple might want to go further. Clearly Globalstar's decision to delay their refinancing also anticipated that a public announcement by Apple would make it simpler. So will SpaceX be able to come up with a real alternative to Apple here? It seems like a tough ask to align the spectrum plan (which will have to be different outside the US), regulatory approvals and handsets/billing when Apple's been working on this for two years. So the question then has to be asked why SpaceX wants to put more roadblocks in the way of Gen2 approval, adding to the confusion from their July 2022 2GHz modification proposal. Most plausible answer is that finishing Gen1 has to take precedence for the next 12 months. And until Starship is ready, there's no point in launching Gen2. The question is how well demand growth holds up as Gen1 capacity doubles later this year. Indications of price cuts are a worrying sign that international demand remains weak, while US is still saturated. Ultimately, the problem will be that if US is ~50% of global demand, network efficiency will be poor. However, Starlink Gen1 should still be capable of becoming cash flow positive and making life very hard for everyone else in the satellite industry. It's just that at a valuation of $130B, you need to keep coming up new opportunities before it becomes clear what the limits to growth are for the existing business.
MacDailyNews Take: “Far out.”
This is not going to turn your iPhone into a “satellite phone,” but it will still be a useful feature for certain users, including those in Government & Public Safety, Transportation, Energy, Construction, Maritime, Agriculture, Forestry, etc. – MacDailyNews, August 31, 2021
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