HomeTechnologyGadgetsSmartphone satellite expectations will soon crash to Earth

Smartphone satellite expectations will soon crash to Earth

Did you hear the news? Ordinary smartphones get satellite connection!

Apple recently announced satellite support for the new iPhone 14, which has been known for a long time, allowing users to send emergency messages outside mobile coverage areas.

The service, called Emergency SOS, was made possible through a partnership with Globalstar, the US low-Earth orbit satellite company (LEO). (Apple also hinted at other future partnerships.) Emergency SOS will launch in the US and Canada in November, and later in other countries.

The news from Apple is only part of a larger story about satellite connections to everyday smartphones.

It’s from space!

For Apples rollout – undoubtedly a preemptive PR attack – T-Mobile and SpaceX announced a partnership on satellite connectivity for coverage in the United States. (The satellites wonwill not be launched until next year at the earliest.)

Huawei has announced his Mate 50 serieswhich provides the ability to send but not receive text messages using Chinas global BeiDou satellite network.

A credible rumor says Samsung will add satellite communications to future Galaxy phones early next year.

Qualcomm, Ericsson and Thales are test satellite connection as part of their 5G technologies.

And Google recently confirmed that the next version of Android would support satellite communications.

AppleThe announcement brought attention to a new phase in smartphone capabilities, one where future devices will connect directly to satellites. This shift has been long in the making.

Companies have been working on satellite-to-smartphone connectivity for years. For example, AST SpaceMobile and Lynk Global have broken down the barriers and both plan to launch multiple satellites by the end of 2023. (The FCC approved Lynk Global’s license this month.) Shell partners with carriers around the world to provide service, which is typically offered to customers as an option for an additional monthly fee.

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Why expectations will crash to Earth

Of course, satellite phones have been around for decades. But so far they haveThey are special purpose devices with very expensive calling and data plans from companies like Inmarsat, Thuraya and Iridium. Back in the day, these phones had comically large antennas. But in recent years they’ve been reduced to studs or, in rare cases, completely built into the handset, which must be bulkier than smartphones to accommodate the satellite components.

Special-purpose products, such as the Garmin InReach Line (which uses the Iridium network) for communication provide the ability to send text messages, share your location and send an SOS message to a dedicated emergency center. The “mini” version is quite small and pocket-sized.

UK-based Bullitt, which makes rugged phones for professionals under the Cat and Motorola brands, recently teased a new phone that’s about the size of an iPhone, but much thicker; it is expected to launch early next year and enable seamless switch between Wi-Fi, Cellular and Satellite using a custom chipset and custom app. The service would require a special satellite plan from an unnamed carrier, separate from the usual cellular plan.

HereHere’s what you need to know: It would be a mistake to think that regular smartphones are about to get a satellite phone connection that acts as an alternative to cellular connectivity. Thatain’t whathappens.

Whats new is a new generation of satellites, with new smartphone electronics connecting to them, allowing for extremely limited connections.

While dedicated satellite phones are slow, satellite connectivity for smartphones is even slower. Dedicated satellite phones get data performance below – often well below – 10 Kbps (much slower than 2G phones). The new satellite antennas for smartphones are much less optimized, so expect data rates of less than 2 Kbps — that’s Kbps with a “K” — even with Starlink.

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Even sending a single sentence takes some time. Apple’s service doesn’t even send sentences because whole sentences are too large. Instead they use what is basically a multiple choice quiz with canned answers so they can send the minimum amount of data. Still, this small amount of data used only by iPhone 14 users outside emergency coverage areas has prompted Globalstar to allocate 85% of its network capacity to iPhones.

And Apple’s minimalist service will be super slow. apples emergency SOS help page says, “If you’re using a satellite link, it can take about 15 seconds to send a message if you have a clear view of the sky. Light or medium-leaf trees can take over a minute.”

In the near future, the new satellite revolution for smartphones has wont helps business considerably. The biggest beneficiaries are adventurers, people lost at sea and extreme travelers. However, it will be useless for such people in forests, canyons, caves or anywhere without a perfect line-of-site to the sky.

There will no doubt be a few lives saved by Apples Emergency SOS feature, which is a good thing for the saved – and for Apples iPhone marketing group.

But for business communications outside of normal cell phone coverage areas, dedicated satellite phones remain much better.

The big picture about satellite communications

The rise of smartphone satellite is part of a much larger trend where more places will have wireless connectivity of one kind or another.

An extreme example is Google, which recently emerged from its balloon internet startup, Loon, a new company called Aalyria. It aims to develop the next generation of software created at Alphabet called Spacetime in a secret project codenamed “Minkowski” for fast, secure laser-based communication using hardware technology called “Tightbeam”. The goal is access from “land, sea, air, near space and deep space”, and includes satellite communications. The startup promises super-fast communication with very high bandwidth in environments without existing infrastructure, including in space.

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It is true that all around us are revolutions emerging around connectivity that were not there before. But it’s important to temper expectations about how these revolutions will change business communications in the near future. Because they won’t.

The best solution for businesses that need voice, text, and data communications beyond the reach of cellular networks remains good, old-fashioned satellite phones.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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