Is Apple secretly launching a space network for iPhones? — Quartz

Is Apple secretly launching a space network for iPhones?  — Quartz

The rumors circulated after satellite operator Globalstar this week coyly announced an agreement with “a large, global customer” to build a new communications network, just months after it announced that an unidentified “potential customer” had more than 300 Millions of dollars had been allocated to finance the purchase of 13 new satellites.

Analysts believe the customer is a single entity. The scuttlebutt is that Apple is behind these deals with the goal of using Globalstar to provide satellite connectivity for a future iPhone. Globalstar says it has been working with this client since 2020 “in connection with the evaluation of a potential service utilizing certain of our assets and capabilities.”

Why apple? In 2021, Bloomberg News cited anonymous sources to report that Apple was considering adding satellite communications to its mobile devices. And whoever the customer is, they’ve already paid around $430 million just to “evaluate” a potential service, so they’ve got to dig deep. However, Globalstar has previously worked with both Nokia and Qualcomm, and both qualify as large, global customers.

Why Global Star? This is a more interesting question. It’s not a very successful satellite company, having lost more than $1.5 billion over the past decade with its shares trading around $1 a share. Its primary business is the delivery of low-bandwidth telecommunications services, such as text messaging and data relay, using Internet-of-Things devices. What it has is a license to operate on a valuable part of the spectrum.

How would Apple work with a satellite operator?

Globalstar’s exclusive electromagnetic properties are located near frequencies reserved for terrestrial applications. While previous efforts to monetize this spectrum have encountered regulatory obstacles, it remains valuable in theory. “Everyone in the space industry has googly eyes about it,” says Caleb Henry, a senior analyst at Quilty Analytics, for its promise of the ability to seamlessly connect affordable cell phones to both cell towers and satellites.

While most populated areas have reliable cellular coverage, the satellite connection could come in handy in rural areas or when traveling. Satellite operators are excited about the chance to tap into the much larger terrestrial communications market, and other companies like AST SpaceMobile and Lynx are working on their own plans to connect mobile phones to satellite networks.

Applications could be for emergency messaging and location tracking, or for regular text messaging when a user goes out of range of terrestrial networks. Based on Globalstar’s current satellite network, it is unlikely that it could immediately provide bandwidth for phone calls.

If the deal with the prospect becomes an actual partnership with a leading handset maker like Apple, it would be a major comeback — and a surprising endorsement from the faithful Globalstar chairman Jay Monroe, who bought the company out of bankruptcy in 2004 and through financed years of losses.

A version of this story originally appeared in Quartz’s Space Business newsletter.

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