Adventurers celebrate the new feature of iPhone 14 SOS messaging. Will satellite calling be far … [+] behind?


One of the more exciting things Apple did with the new iPhone 14 is to include a satellite connection for use in emergencies in the U.S. and Canada. While the audience for this type of messaging service may be small, serious adventurers who love to hike in the backcountry and sailing enthusiasts who, when sailing or boating, is often out of cellular service range applauded this move. It is also valuable for emergency services and the military when connections are needed in areas where cellular calls are unavailable.

Within minutes of Apple’s announcement of this new feature, I began to see tweets and comments about the idea of Apple eventually adding satellite calling features to the iPhone in the near future.

Satellite stand-alone phones have been available for decades but are almost always used in specialized circumstances. For example, the U.S. military has used satellite phones on the battlefield and in remote areas for decades.

As mentioned above, satellite phones have been used for communications on the high seas and within many types of emergency services where cellular connections are not available.

Dedicated satellite phones can cost as little as $500.00 to well over $1500, depending on features. However, the more significant issue with satellite phones is the cost per minute. With cellular phones, voice calling is cheap and unlimited in most carrier services. However, satellite phone calls can cost anywhere from $1.25 per minute to over $10 per minute, depending on a person’s location.

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote a story about this and cast a skeptical eye on the ability to see satellite voice calling embedded in smartphones anytime soon.

“The stakes of such a wager are high for satellite ventures that typically spend several billion dollars apiece just to launch their networks. The potential rewards from reaching even a sliver of the world’s more than six billion smartphones are likewise rich, assuming that companies are able to make their services work on a global scale.

Several other satellite companies are trying to grab a share of the cellular market. SpaceX, the rocket company, led by entrepreneur Elon Musk, in August said it will join with T-Mobile U.S. Inc. to make its Starlink service compatible with the U.S. cellphone carrier’s network. The companies said they would begin testing the service before the end of 2023.

“I’m personally a bit of a skeptic,” says Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch, calling such seamless connections “not a service that the public will see for at least a few years.” A more feasible goal, he says, includes satellite-based text messages that work as well on a smartphone as they do on the specialized satellite phones available today.”

As I looked into the idea of embedding satellite voice calling into a smartphone, it became clear that while it has potential, it is not something we will see anytime soon. Elon Musk wants to offer it via a partnership with Starlink and TMobile by the end of 2023, but a lot has to happen for this even to be possible.

I was at an event recently where Umair Javed, General Council for the FCC, spoke. …….


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