Emergency SOS: Apple iPhones to be able to send/receive texts via Globalstar LEO satellites in November
Apple finally confirmed a longstanding rumor that its new iPhones will be able to connect directly to LEO satellites to send and receive text messages. The feature, called Emergency SOS, will allow iPhone 14 models to message from remote locations not covered by traditional cellular infrastructure. Apple says the service launches in November and will be free to iPhone 14 buyers for two years. It didn’t specify what it might cost after that. Apple noted at Wednesday’s Cupertino, CA HQ event that its smartphone would need to be pointed directly at a satellite to work, and that even light foliage could make texts a few minutes to send.
Globalstar confirmed in a filing Wednesday that it will be operating the service through a partnership with Apple. Under that agreement, Apple will cover 95% of the capital expenditures made by Globalstar to build up its network, including new satellites, to provide the service. It will require Globalstar to allocate 85% of its “current and future network capacity” to support the service, which analyst Mike Crawford of B. Riley describes as “in one fell swoop converting an underutilized asset to a productive asset.”
The deal will include service fees and potential bonus payments, allowing Globalstar to project total revenue in a range of $185 million to $230 million for next year and $250 million to $310 million for 2026, which is expected to be the first full year that all of the company’s new satellites are operational. Even the low end of the near-term target would be a record high for the satellite-service provider, representing a gain of 44% above the annual revenue Globalstar has averaged for the past three years. Globalstar notably broke from the traditionally dry language of SEC filings to describe the deal as “transformational.”
Globalstar, currently offers SPOT X which provides 2-way satellite messaging so users can stay connected whenever you’re outside of cellular range, including direct communication with search & rescue services in case of a life-threatening emergency. SPOT X provides your own personal U.S. mobile number so others can message you directly from their mobile phone or SMS devices at any time.
Globalstar Satellite System:
Like “bent-pipes” or mirrors in the sky, the Globalstar satellites pick up signals from over 80% of the Earth’s surface. Our satellites transmit customer signals via CDMA technology to antennas at the appropriate terrestrial gateway, then the signals are routed through the local networks. This highly effective design offers the shortest connectivity latency and enables Globalstar to upgrade our system with the latest technology on the ground.
Globalstar’s new satellite constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and second generation ground infrastructure deliver exceptional quality, reliable coverage and high quality service to its customers.
Image Credit: Globalstar
The company’s patented satellite path and gateway diversity technologies allow customers to stay connected in the event of a single satellite failure by automatically transmitting to the next available satellite. This ensures uninterrupted communication in even the most suboptimal conditions like mountainous areas or urban canyons.
There is increasing competition for LEO satellite based internet access from smartphones:
- Starlink/SpaceX, announced a deal last month with T-Mobile to launch a text-based service by the end of next year. The Apple-Globalstar service might have cooled some enthusiasm. It is designed for emergency texting only, as opposed to providing a more typical smartphone experience in the wild.
- In addition to T-Mobile’s venture with SpaceX, the Globalstar rival Iridium announced in July that it has entered a development agreement with an unnamed company for a smartphone service that it expects to complete by the end of the year. Ric Prentiss of Raymond James wrote Thursday that the total addressable market “for satellite-smartphone off-the-grid connectivity is quite large with room for several initiatives globally.”
Musk’s SpaceX and T-Mobile plan to connect mobile phones to LEO satellites in 2023
Qualcomm and Iridium launch Snapdragon Satellite for 2-Way Messaging on Android Premium Smartphones – Technology Blog (comsoc.org)
4 thoughts on “Emergency SOS: Apple iPhones to be able to send/receive texts via Globalstar LEO satellites in November”
That is an interesting development by Apple and demonstrates the continuous blurring of lines between hardware, software, and services.
In a sense, this appears to be a marketing cost for Apple to make the iPhone ecosystem that much more sticky. It also may appeal to those (such as myself) who have not made the switch from android. This could be a lifesaving feature, compared to more megapixels or bandwidth.
It will be interesting to see if the unnamed company working with Iridium is Google. Satellite texting would fit well with their GoogleFi plan, which is a fairly compelling offering.
Good article Alan, thank you.
Is the Globalstar’s SOS texting coverage global? No pun intended, it seems the SOS text messaging is positioned for N. American clientele.
SPOT X messaging is what many folks in the remote areas of Alaska use as I found out last year (was visiting the Deadhorse / Prudhoe Bay area). Many people carry sat phones but majority use SPOT X messaging gadget that looks like a sophisticated version of the good old pager.
Ken, stay with your Android phone! I haven’t switched to an iPhone yet.
Thanks for your comment Divakar! Great to hear from you. It appears the satellite based texting is only for Apple’s iphone 14’s in the U.S. as Globalstar’s filing was with the U.S. SEC.
Apple emphasized the difficulty of providing connectivity via satellite for its phones. “The bandwidth is so limited that even sending a text message is a technical challenge,” said Ashley Williams, manager of satellite modeling and simulation at Apple.
The phone features customized hardware and software to allow it to connect via satellite. “That connection is only possible when the phone is pointing directly at a satellite,” she said, with the phone offering special interface to instruct the user where to point the phone to create and maintain a connection. That eliminates the need for a special external antenna like those on conventional satellite phones.
The Bullitt Group has joined with chipmaker MediaTek to introduce what it calls “the world’s first smartphone to feature two-way satellite messaging capabilities.” Though this market is becoming very competitive, Bullitt says that the phone and satellite service will go on the market in the first quarter of 2023, along with a year of free satellite SOS messaging.
This means Bullitt is competing with T-Mobile US and SpaceX’s Starlink for messaging from space. Earlier, Nokia and AST SpaceMobile said they had signed a five-year 5G deal to build a space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones. AST SpaceMobile is a wholesale satellite operator working with Globe Telecom, Vodafone, and others to deliver satellite services to standard mobile phones.
Bullitt is the First to Use MediaTek’s 3GPP NTN Chipset
The most recent entrant, Bullitt, stated that it and MediaTek had worked over the last 18 months to enable the addition of direct-to-satellite communication in its next-generation Bullitt 5G smartphones. Bullitt also said it is the first to use MediaTek’s 3GPP NTN (Non-Terrestrial Network) chipset.
Also Read: Apple Spent $450 Million to Bring Satellite Connectivity on iPhone 14
Intelligent Device Software
Bullitt stated that the device switches to the satellite link only when no cellular or Wi-Fi connection is available. This service also integrates users’ contacts in such a way as to provide a seamless experience when using the satellite link to communicate with a phone on a cellular network. The time to initially connect to the satellite and send a message is around 10 seconds.
Richard Wharton, a co-founder of Bullitt, said: “Over 13 years, we have developed a deep understanding of our clients who, by nature of their lifestyle or employment, frequently find themselves in remote locations outside of cellular coverage.”
Wharton added: “Americans alone lose cell coverage for over 22 billion hours annually. We have known for a long time that the answer was in satellite, but an ‘invisible’ and seamless integration into a smartphone creates enormous technical challenges.”
JC Hsu, corporate VP at MediaTek, Taiwan, stated that the 3GPP NTN project supports allowing device manufacturers access to satellite connectivity. We are extremely proud of having developed the two-way satellite messaging technology utilised in this first commercially accessible phone and for being the pioneers in developing the ecosystem for satellite communication based on 3GPP NTN standards.