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The iPhone 12 has been a massive sales hit for Apple thanks to the launch of 5G. It seems Apple wants to keep the momentum by adding another new radio technology to the iPhone this year. In an investor note, Ming-Chi Kuo today said that he expects the upcoming iPhone 13 models to feature a low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite communication mode. This would allow an iPhone 13 user to send messages and make phone calls, even when they are not within standard 4G/5G cell tower coverage.
Bloomberg first reported Apple’s investigations into using satellite technology to beam data to iPhones in a story from 2019. However, this is the first time we have heard that the feature is coming as part of the 2021 iPhone 13 lineup.
In the future, Kuo speculates that LEO satellite communication may also be used by the upcoming Apple AR headset, the Apple Car and other Internet-of-Things accessories.
Kuo says that the iPhone 13 will use a customized version of the Qualcomm X60 baseband modem chip. This chip will support communications over satellite.
It is unclear if sending messages and making calls over satellite would only work with Apple services like iMessage and FaceTime, or if Apple could proxy satellite communications to standard cell towers on the other end. It is also unclear if satellite features would be free, like GPS, or would come with associated usage charges.
We currently expect Apple to announce the iPhone 13 lineup in September. The phones will largely resemble the existing iPhone 12 lineup in screen size and form factor. Expected new features include upgrades to the camera systems, a high-refresh rate display for the Pro models, and a smaller display notch. Today’s news about satellite features is certainly the most exciting thing to come out of the rumor model for this year’s phones.