There was a great deal of initial excitement over what was initially presumed to be a feature debuting on the iPhone 13. After all, who wouldn’t want the ability to make calls or send messages even without a cellular network connection? Subsequent insider tips, however, doused cold water on that by setting expectations on what this support for LEO (Low-Earth Orbit) satellites can and cannot do. Additional information is now putting even more limits on where these emergency features will be available and, more importantly, when.
On further analysis, it was really wishful thinking that Apple would allow unrestricted calls via satellite networks on iPhones. It would have definitely upset the company’s network partners, not to mention the mobile network market. It would have also been expensive for both Apple and its customers, as any satellite phone user would be able to attest to.
Instead, that satellite connectivity feature will be limited to emergency purposes, but even then, it would have further limitations on its own. All that’s certain at this point is that satellite communication will be used for sending emergency messages and SOS alerts, with emergency calls still up for discussion. You’d also have to walk outside first to be able to establish a connection with a passing LEO satellite.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman now adds further restrictions on this feature, reiterating that it would be limited only to certain markets and areas without cellular coverage. That’s not exactly surprising since the use of satellite networks is regulated differently in different countries. Just like new radio technologies in iPhones or new health sensors in Apple Watches, Apple would have to first get each country’s approval before rolling out the feature.
Apple definitely has time because, contrary to earlier rumors, the hardware for this feature isn’t ready yet. It definitely isn’t ready for making calls anywhere, whether it be next year or in the near future. Ideally, Apple will deploy its own LEO satellites to serve its iPhone customers, but that is even further out into the future.