iPhone 13 will not be making ‘satellite calls’: Rumors about LEO Satellite Communications debunked

Apple iPhone satellite calls
The next Apple iPhone will make satellite calls? Pic credit: Ajay Suresh/Flickr

Apple Inc. is obviously in the final stages of developing the iPhone 13 models. The upcoming iPhone may have a chipset which technically supports satellite communications. However, it is practically impossible for any modern-day Apple device to make “satellite calls”.

Rumors about the Apple iPhone 13 being able to make “satellite calls” surfaced recently. They began after reports suggested the iPhone 13 lineup will feature hardware that is able to connect with LEO satellites.

Apple iPhone 13 may have a chip that supports the technology which can connect to a satellite:

According to Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple’s upcoming iPhone 13 will include support for LEO satellite communication. LEO stands for Low Earth Orbit, and the term basically refers to small communication satellites that spin at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere.

The iPhone 13 reportedly features a customized Qualcomm X60 baseband chip. This chip technically supports satellite communications.

Interestingly, reports indicate Qualcomm has been working with LEO satellite company Globalstar. Together, the companies are working to support the n53 band in future X65 baseband chips.

Kuo mentioned the hardware inside Apple iPhone 13 would be able to connect to LEO satellites. She added that in the simplest of scenarios, customers of a partner network operator could use Globalstar’s satellite communication service on the iPhone 13 directly through their network operator.

Kuo further indicated that Apple is “optimistic” about the trend of satellite communications. Needless to add, although Apple Inc. may be interested, the design philosophy, physics, and consumer interests would not allow an Apple iPhone to directly communicate with LEO satellites to make a satellite call.

Will an Apple iPhone be able to make “satellite calls” using the onboard Snapdragon chipset?

Technically, a LEO satellite is any manmade object that is located at an altitude of less than 1000 Km (621 Miles). Many of the communication satellites could be as low as just 160 Km (100 Miles) above the Earth’s surface.

This may sound low, but in reality, this is a huge distance. A typical cellphone tower is far closer in comparison. In fact, a cellular connection tower is usually within just a few hundred meters of a user. In rural regions, this distance can increase to a few kilometers at the most.

Needless to mention, as the distance increase, the ability of any mobile communication device to latch on to the signal decreases. To remedy this, telecommunication companies place cell towers closer to each other.

In case cell towers aren’t close, the mobile device manufacturers have to embed bigger and more powerful antennae within their products. The majority of mobile communication devices that are able to make satellite calls, have a huge external antenna attached to them. These antennae rotate above the device for communicating with a satellite.

Needless to mention, Apple Inc. will not design an iPhone with a huge external antenna that juts out of the device. All the iPhones, and the majority of smartphones today, have internal antenna.

Secondly, the upcoming Apple iPhone 13 series will need to access Geostationary Satellites, not LEO satellites. And these hover above a particular location at about 36,000 Km altitude.

There could be, however, some truth to the Kuo’s statement. Apple Inc. may have signed a deal with LEO satellite provider. The deal could allow iPhone 13 to latch on to ground-based gateways that, in turn, communicate with a satellite.

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