iPhone 13 Satellite Support Rumor Disputed, Likely for Additional 5G Spectrum

Over the weekend, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo sent out a research note suggesting that the iPhone 13 was "likely" to support low earth orbit satellite communication, a feature that would allow iPhone users to make calls and send messages when cellular and WiFi connections are unavailable.

iPhone 13 Dummy Thumbnail 2
In this note, Kuo said that Apple would use a "customized" Qualcomm X60 baseband chip that supports satellite communications. He also claimed that Apple would work with Qualcomm partner Globalstar on the basis that Qualcomm is implementing support for Globalstar's n53 band in a future modem.

Almost immediately, mobile analysts and those with other expertise in mobile devices and communications began disputing Kuo's report as inaccurate.

Globalstar is indeed a satellite company that is working with Qualcomm, but the n53 band that Kuo mentions is terrestrial spectrum. In February, Globalstar announced that Qualcomm's next-generation X65 modem would offer global 5G n53 support in an effort to expand Globalstar's "terrestrial spectrum commercialization."

The n53 band is a variant of Globalstar's terrestrial Band 53, which is already in use for 4G and 5G private networks. Nokia, for example, is using Band 53 for a private wireless network at the Port of Seattle. Globalstar is using the mid-band spectrum for partner companies that would otherwise not have access to licensed spectrum.

Globalstar does not market or offer Band 53 or n53 spectrum for satellite communications - it is solely for terrestrial coverage. Satellite to terrestrial communication is not a function of the spectrum that Kuo mentioned, and it's not approved for that kind of use.

It's worth noting that Qualcomm is partnering with Globalstar for Band 53 in the X65 modem, which is not the modem that Apple is using this year. Apple is using the X60, but it seems that there may be a special variant designed for Apple that does support n53. That doesn't mean the ‌iPhone 13‌ will get satellite communication functionality, and signs suggest that this instead points toward the possibility of 5G connectivity improvements.

Many people have pointed out the issue between Kuo's prediction and the actual function of the n53 band. PCMag's Sascha Segan, for example, says that while the X60 may have the support for Globalstar's Band 53, that in no way means that it's going to communicate with satellites. Other Twitter users have pointed out similar issues, and have provided more technical details for those interested.

Kuo often has accurate insight into Apple's plans, but there seems to have been some kind of miscommunication or misunderstanding with his note to investors. It's possible that Kuo believes that the X60 will support some other spectrum that's not n53, but given that he mentions n53 specifically and the upcoming Qualcomm X65 modem supports n53 and not spectrum that would enable low earth orbit satellite communications, it seems very unlikely.

There have been rumors that Apple has a "secret" satellite team working on ways to use satellites for communication purposes. Apple has a dozen aerospace, satellite, and antenna design engineers working on the project, Bloomberg said in 2019.

Apple's aim with the project is to reduce dependence on wireless carriers and improve coverage, and Apple at the time was said to be hoping to produce results "within five years."

That timeline would see Apple launching some kind of possible satellite communication feature around 2024.

Related Roundup: iPhone 13
Buyer's Guide: iPhone 13 (Neutral)
Related Forum: iPhone

Top Rated Comments

diddl14 Avatar
21 weeks ago
Well, as the MacRumors original author bio states:
“Based in Hertfordshire, England, Hartley is keenly interested in history and creative writing.

A tech writer should maybe do a bit of research before publishing..
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gjdarbo Avatar
21 weeks ago
We could really use satellite support on iPhones in Louisiana right now...
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
GMShadow Avatar
21 weeks ago

He's actually well respected in the tech industry.

https://www.macrumors.com/guide/ming-chi-kuo/

https://appleinsider.com/inside/ming-chi-kuo
Yes, it's funny how almost all the articles where he's mentioned note that he is a "well-respected Apple analyst".

Almost as if they're being fed copy by someone with a massive ego and desire to increase his client base.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheYayAreaLiving ? Avatar
21 weeks ago
Woah! Mr. Kuo gave spoke too soon and gave us the future roadmap. Imagine how handy this would be in a disaster or for people hiking out in the wilderness or people being stuck in the middle of the ocean.

I have a feeling this feature will be exclusive to 2022 iPhone.

Apple seriously needs to offer it's own cell tower/carrier.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Realityck Avatar
21 weeks ago

Apple's aim with the project is to reduce dependence on wireless carriers and improve coverage, and Apple at the time was said to be hoping to produce results "within five years."

That timeline would see Apple launching some kind of possible satellite communication feature around 2024.
Can hear the silence from the wireless carriers as what to do? o_O
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mrjetsondc Avatar
21 weeks ago
Check me if I’m wrong but are satellites not terrible at communication in bad weather?

Like what good would this be if I’m in the middle of the woods, in a house full of bears. If it is bad weather, how exactly can I call for help? I just ate a lot of porridge and these bears look mad ?.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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