There seems to be a trend with the newer generation of smartphones: some models can communicate with satellites. The Huawei Mate 50 Pro must be able to send messages via satellite, the Apple iPhone 14 can send emergency calls. Meanwhile, Tesla and Starlink boss Elon Musk promises satellite internet for everyone through second-generation Starlink satellites.
We want to know what the trend is about. Are we going to use satellites more often for communication in the future, or is the technology really only suitable for emergencies? To find out, we took a closer look at the three satellite offerings, as there are definitely differences.
The iPhone 14 with satellite emergency call
With Apple’s new iPhone 14, satellite functionality is limited to emergency SMS, which can be sent via the technology. However, Apple does not disclose the technical details or which satellites will be controlled. in a Apple blog post it just says:
“This feature combines special components deeply integrated into the software, allowing antennas to connect directly to a satellite. Allows you to contact 911 when the iPhone is out of cellular coverage or Wi-Fi.”
Voice calls or even video calls or normal text messages are not covered. According to Apple, the feature is only for emergency calls. Also, iPhone 14 owners can manually set their location with “Where is?” share via satellite. However, this only makes sense if there is no mobile or WLAN connection.
To do this, you must have a clear view of the sky. So if you are in a building or if a tree is blocking your view, you will not be able to connect. If the sky is clear, the iPhone will show you how to hold it to connect. The feature will be available to customers in the US and Canada in November.
Huawei with the Mate 50 in China
Chinese manufacturer Huawei has also introduced satellite connectivity for its latest smartphone, the Mate 50 Pro. The smartphone would have access to the Chinese satellite network of BeiDou. This should allow users to send text messages even if they don’t have an internet connection.
There is also no voice or video telephony at Huawei. Unlike the iPhone, the Mate 50 makes it seem like Huawei customers can access the satellite network for news at any time, not just in emergencies. However, the smartphone will only appear on the Chinese market for the time being.
Elon Musk and T Mobile
Where there is new technology, Elon Musk is rarely far away. In a partnership between SpaceX and T-Mobile, the two companies want to bring satellite internet to the masses. At an event, Musk and T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert presented the service together.
Core element are the second-generation Starlink satellites, which SpaceX plans to send into space so that the service can be operational next year. The new satellites must be able to use T-Mobile’s 5G mid-band spectrum and thus be able to communicate with smartphones.
This is also one of the big differences with the offerings from Apple and Huawei. Both initially installed the necessary technology exclusively in the latest of their smartphones. Musk said, however, that no special equipment is needed for the SpaceX and T-Mobile service. The satellites should be able to connect to today’s smartphones of all kinds. However, the two CEOs have not yet revealed how exactly this should work.
At the moment we do not know what “up-to-date” means and what technical requirements a smartphone must meet in order to use the service. However, the service is apparently not limited to text messages or emergency texts. Musk said users have 2 to 4 Mbps available per cell zone. That would be good for texting and calling. If there aren’t that many people in a cell zone, even some video is possible, Musk claimed. He left it open whether this meant watching or video calling.
You can watch the entire event here:
Will satellite technology be the next big thing?
At the moment, the technology is still very young and only just being introduced in the first smartphones or services. It also seems that the functionality is very limited. Only emergency texting is possible with Apple, texting with Huawei, Elon Musk talks about videos.
In the presentation, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert says he hopes that the satellites will also be able to broadcast fast internet sooner or later. So it seems at least technically possible that they will also send the internet to smartphones, as the Satlink satellites already do to receivers.
The next question, of course, is that of utility. Who really needs the service? In most cases and in most places we have fast internet and we can call or text even without satellite.
The offer is therefore particularly relevant for people who often go to areas where there is no reception. These can be remote hiking trails, the desert or even the middle of the ocean. Even areas where fast internet coverage is worse than in Germany can benefit from messaging or internet via satellite.
I don’t think satellite internet and texting will be something big that everyone needs. However, the technology has its uses. These are emergency calls in remote areas and communication options for people who live far away from normal internet and mobile phone reception.
Cover image: Adobe Stock