Apple Steals Starlink’s Lunch – Announces $450 Million Satellite Investment

Ramish Zafar

This is not investment advice. The author has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Wccftech.com has a disclosure and ethics policy.

Apple announced earlier today that it has committed $450 million to support emergency satellite communication in the U.S., as part of its efforts to gain first place in a hot segment that has recently seen interest by none other than SpaceX's Starlink. Apple's latest smartphones, the iPhone 14 lineup, supports emergency satellite connectivity in partnership with Globalstar, and the company confirmed today that the service will use the mobile satellite service (MSS) frequency, band. This band has also seen interest from SpaceX, with the company filing for the FCC's permission to use the 2Ghz band for a new kind of service earlier this year.

Apple's iPhone Satellite Emergency Service Will Use 2GHz Frequency Band

Apple's announcement, which is one of the largest in the industry is part of the company's massive $430 billion commitments to support manufacturing in the U.S. These commitments were announced in 2020, and are expected to be spread over the course of five years. They will involve the company partnering up primarily with Globalstar, to improve the latter's satellite infrastructure. This includes both the ground stations that are responsible for transferring data to backend servers and the satellites themselves that connect with smartphones.

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Crucially, Globalstar's second generation satellites use the much lower low Earth orbit (LEO) for providing overage. This reduces the time taken for the signal to travel to and back from Earth, and ends up improving the quality of coverage offered. LEO satellites are also primarily used by SpaceX for its Starlink satellite internet constellation and have allowed the firm to leap ahead of its other satellite internet rivals primarily because of the advantages offered by the lower orbits.

Globalstar's ground stations are responsible for providing satellite connectivity. Image: Apple

The choice of the service, which will let iPhone 14 users connect in case of an emergency, is an interesting one as it shows that Apple has once again managed to stay ahead of the curve - despite running out of ideas for either new products or any significant design upgrades for its flagship smartphone.

Emergency satellite connectivity for smartphones is something that is also on SpaceX's mind. The company has already requested the FCC to allow it to use the 2Ghz band for providing a new service, yet refrained from describing its nature. Additionally, its chief Mr. Elon Musk has also joined forces with T-Mobile to provide emergency coverage to smartphone users by lining together T-Mobile and Starlink. This coverage will use Starlink's second generation satellites that are yet to be launched, and T-Mobile's chief executive believes that the first trial will be up and running sometime during the second half of next year.

However, while Starlink is yet to provide emergency connectivity, Apple's service will use the L and S bands. Collectively dubbed as the mobile satellite service (MSS) spectrum, they are also used by DISH as part of a heavily funded service that depends primarily on device support. Apple's tight control of its design and build infrastructure also provides the company an edge on this front, as it can simply choose to launch support for new services instead of waiting for other companies.

The iPhone 14's emergency satellite support will not simply be supported by Globalstar's existing infrastructure. Instead, Apple has installed its own antennas at the satellite company's ground stations. These will transmit data to emergency services, and can also be used by iPhone users to transmit their location via the Find My iPhone application even from areas that are outside of cellular coverage. Additionally, they can also communicate with emergency service providers that have received training from Apple in case local services are unable to receive text messages.

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