As the release of Apple’s iPhone 14 draws near, speculation persists that the phone will have the capability to send out emergency alerts through satellite. Ming-Chi Kuo, an industry expert, said on Monday that Apple has “finished hardware tests for this capability” with the iPhone 14, but that the company would need to negotiate a business model with carriers before implementing it.
If Apple and operators can agree on a revenue model, then the iPhone 14 might be able to provide satellite communication, says Kuo. According to Kuo, the hardware necessary for the iPhone 13 to interact with satellites was completed, but Apple couldn’t figure out the business end with carriers, delaying the function at least once. Infamously, Kuo and others projected that the feature could appear in the 13, but it was never included.
Kuo says it’s “impossible to forecast precisely when” satellite communications will arrive on the iPhone, but that it is “inevitable.” The feature’s release may now be contingent on discussions with carriers, which may be simpler to conceal, making it more difficult to monitor its development via studying the supply chain or code from beta releases.
Since carriers may want to provide their own satellite connectivity services and plans, they may be motivated to negotiate aggressively with Apple. This past Thursday, T-Mobile and SpaceX announced the debut of T-satellite-based Mobile’s emergency communications system, which the company claims is compatible with many currently available 5G-capable phones.
Meanwhile, AT&T is collaborating with a firm named AST SpaceMobile to deliver broadband to mobile devices by way of satellite. In addition to Amazon, Verizon is a partner in the Kuiper satellite initiative. However, it appears to be geared toward serving cell towers in outlying areas where it would be impractical to lay fiber or cable.
Because satellite networks may reach people all over the world, Apple may need to negotiate with foreign carriers and perhaps governments.
Since the technologies are so dissimilar and T-“Coverage Mobile’s Above and Beyond” isn’t expected to begin testing until the end of 2019, Public Knowledge analyst Harold Feld doesn’t think carriers will view this as a conflict of interest.
Unless the carrier has an exclusive agreement with SpaceX prohibiting the use of any other satellite service, he said, “there’s no reason from the carrier standpoint why this should be a problem.” However, he cautioned that “it’s kind of impossible to determine without knowing the commercial relationships.”
If, as Kuo and others have speculated, Apple is collaborating with a company that already operates its own satellite communications network, then it seems doubtful that Apple would require technology or spectrum rights from the carriers in this instance.
If Apple wants to use the carrier’s SMS and voice systems in its satellite communications feature, it may be a similar situation to what T-Mobile described during its presentation, when it said it would have to work with messaging app developers to make their systems compatible with its satellite tech.
Feld suggested some issues that Apple and carriers may need to iron out. “It’s something that carriers might want to include in their advertising, in which case there may be some negotiations with Apple as to who gets credit for it, and the nature of their advertising, whether the carriers can include it in their coverage maps,” he said. It’s complicated because of all the factors involved.
Even the small details, like whose name appears on the screen when the phone uses a satellite connection instead of a cellular tower, could be a point of contention during talks.
Another potential stumbling block is the question of who pays for satellite messaging amongst the iPhone’s carrier, Apple, the satellite service, and the customers themselves. For example, “that’s really easy to explain in the context of T-Mobile and SpaceX. As far as we can tell, that would be paid directly to T-Mobile, with T-Mobile handling billing, as is customary with wireless providers.
They would rather keep the consumer happy and have everything on one charge. In Feld’s words. Carrier displeasure is possible “if Apple is making this agreement independently with Globalstar and it is going to bill for it separately.”
This is the business side of things. It has nothing to do with rules or technology.
He added that Apple could technically and legally implement the chip even without the carriers’ participation. It’s possible that Apple might say, “Yeah, we’re sticking this chip in. You can’t just ban us from using your system, can you?
Still, Feld doubts that will occur. But the carriers are your long-term partners. Friendly may be too much to ask for, but you still want to make sure you have strong business connections with the carriers, that there are no surprises, and that they understand what you’re asking of them.