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Elon Musk: We’ve Had Talks With Apple on iPhone-Starlink Connectivity

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet system could one day expand to Apple iPhones, according to CEO Elon Musk. 

Musk mentioned the potential partnership in a Thursday tweet, a day after Apple revealed the upcoming iPhone 14 will feature “Emergency SOS” satellite connectivity. To power the feature, Apple has tapped Globalstar, a provider of satellite communication, including satellite phones. 

Someone on Twitter wondered if Apple could one day also rely on SpaceX’s Starlink to power Emergency SOS. In response, Musk wrote(Opens in a new window): “We’ve had some promising conversations with Apple about Starlink connectivity. iPhone team is obv (obviously) super smart.”

A partnership sets up the tantalizing prospect of iPhones not just receiving an emergency SOS service, but also high-speed internet in cellular dead zones through Starlink. However, Musk indicated a key challenge is designing the iPhone to efficiently receive and send signals over Starlink, which currently operates by using orbiting satellites to beam high-speed internet to dishes on the ground.  

“For sure, closing link from space to phone will work best if phone software and hardware adapt to space-based signals vs Starlink purely emulating cell tower,” Musk wrote. 

For now, Starlink operates as a high-speed satellite internet service largely for residential homes, along with moving ships and planes. This requires the subscriber to buy the dish equipment necessary to receive the high-speed broadband, which isn’t exactly convenient for portable, handheld use. However, SpaceX is working to expand Starlink into a mobile satellite service capable of delivering connectivity to cellular dead zones. 

It remains unclear what the mobile Starlink service will look like to consumers and if add-on hardware will need to be purchased. But on Tuesday, SpaceX requested to use the 1.6/2.4GHz spectrum to power the service, which happens to be the same radio bands Globalstar relies on for its own satellite communication. This includes the 2.4GHz spectrum for Apple’s iPhone 14 Emergency SOS function. 

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Globalstar didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But it’s possible it could oppose SpaceX’s attempt to secure the radio spectrum from the FCC over interference concerns. Still, SpaceX’s decision to support the 1.6/2.4GHz spectrum might make it easy for Starlink to expand to the iPhone 14 and future models.

The other advantage with Starlink is how it’s operating over thousands of low-Earth orbiting satellites, far more than any rival satellite providers. This promises to help SpaceX supply higher-quality connectivity compared to Globalstar. But time will tell.

In a financial filing, Globalstar said Apple has agreed to pay 95% of the funding needed to help it to launch additional satellites. In return, Globalstar plans on allocating “85% of its current and future network capacity to support” Apple’s services.

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