Top Apple analyst predicts satellite calling is coming with iPhone 13

Ming-Chi Kuo shares some thoughts about the future of Apple's iPhone 13.
An analyst at TF International Securities who has a history of calling out Apple's updates long before they become public stated in a new investor letter that he expects the next iPhone will feature a low Earth-orbit (LEO), satellite communications mode (via 09to5Mac). Send your messages or calls to outer space, and then wait for them to return to you on the ground.

This feature would allow users to use basic iPhone 13 features even when they are not within range of cellular towers. Kuo stated that the Apple customized Qualcomm X60 baseband modem chip, which supports satellite communications, will enable the LEO mode.

It is not clear which data and/or call features would be supported in the theoretical LEO mode. The cost of using the feature is not yet known. This is similar to roaming costs for cellular devices.

We've heard of Apple possibly turning to outer space to beam cell signals across the globe. This isn’t the first time that we have heard this. Bloomberg reported in late 2019 that such an action could be possible within five years.

Details were still hazy at the time. Bloomberg's report stated that Apple was not sure how or to whom satellites would be used. The company was not sold on the whole project necessarily. However, word that Apple CEO Tim Cook was interested in making things happen with satellites made the prospects for the project seem more concrete at that time.

LEO mode would be available for iPhone 13 at a moment when Apple's rivals in the tech industry are looking to the sky more than ever. SpaceX is the closest company; its Starlink program has been in beta since late 2020. As of June 20, 2021, there were approximately 1,500 Starlink satellites orbiting the earth. This is a significant number but far less than the 10,000+ that will be required to maintain a strong network.

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Amazon has also revealed a plan to get into satellite communications, called Project Kuiper. It was first announced in 2019. This one is not as far along however. Amazon announced in April a partnership with United Launch Alliance that will see its first satellites being ferried into orbit by Atlas V rockets. This was done over nine launches. None of the satellites have yet been launched.

All of this is not directly relevant to Apple's plans. However, consumer tech is often influenced by trends. Apple's anticipated leap into satellite communications device support connects immediately with a larger shift that has been led by other industry leaders.

Apple will unveil the iPhone 13 in September. It is expected that it will also feature an always-on, high-refresh rate display. Other announcements and product reveals are expected to take place during this period. Although it is not known when exactly it will happen, history suggests it will be in the next few weeks.