Apple doesn’t completely own a satellite network now, but it’s close.
Apple revealed the iPhone 14 series yesterday, which can send emergency SOS messages without a cellular signal by connecting to satellites in Earth orbit. More details have now emerged about who is running the satellites, and how they’ll work.
Apple has selected Globalstar Inc as its partner for the emergency SOS feature, which already operates a network of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), like SpaceX’s Starlink internet service. Globalstar says it has 24 ground stations, providing communications to over 120 countries and over 80% of the Earth’s surface. Apple is providing $450 million to Globalstar for network upgrades.
Perhaps the most interesting detail is that Globalstar is setting aside most of its network exclusively for iPhone communications. A new Form 8-K filing with the SEC revealed that Globestar will “allocate 85% of its current and future network capacity” just for Apple, in exchange for the investments.
Apple isn’t the only one rushing for satellite connectivity in phones, either. T-Mobile and SpaceX are working on a similar feature for emergency communications, but without the specialized hardware and antennas in the iPhone 14 — T-Mobile claims it will work with select existing phones. However, the upgrade does require new Starlink satellites, which have not been launched yet.
All iPhone 14 models will ship with two years of SOS connectivity, once the service becomes available in late 2022. Apple still hasn’t said how much the service will cost after that point.