There is always some hype surrounding an Apple product announcement, and while maybe it’s not in the same league as those for the original iPod or iPhone, their iPhone 14 model will include emergency texting by satellite has generated quite a bit of coverage. It’s easy to find a lot about the system from the software end in terms of its interface and even Apple’s use of compression, but what about the radio side? Whose satellite constellation are they using, and how does it work?
As has been widely reported, their communication partner for the service is Globalstar, a provider of satellite data services that like their competitor Iridium have their origins in the 1990s when satellite phones were briefly seen as the Next Big Thing. They have a 24-satellite constellation, and they sell a range of off-the-grid voice, data, paging, tracking, and IoT connectivity services. The Apple emergency texting looks a lot like Globalstar’s Spot texting service. It’s only available in North America for now, we’re guessing because the satellites aren’t smart relays but straightforward transponders, and the network lacks sufficient ground station coverage outside that region.
With all the talk about low-earth-orbit connectivity surrounding services such as SpaceX’s Starlink it’s a bit unexpected to find ourselves back with a satellite constellation using 1990s technology. But we can see that as well as a major win for Globalstar as their service begins to look outdated by comparison to Starlink, it’s a perfect match for Apple in not requiring a complex ground station for low-bandwidth text messages. We expect that there will be some form of exclusivity in the deal, so it will be interesting to see how the larger Android vendors respond.
It’s worth noting, we’ve looked at satellite IoT services before.
Wilderness image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public Domain.