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iPhone 14 satellite connectivity enabled by Qualcomm modem and custom Apple-designed RF components

iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max include a new Emergency SOS feature via satellite connectivity, so that users can get help even when out of cellular and Wi-Fi range. This feature launches in the United States and Canada first, starting in November.

A Reuters report this weekend indicated that the satellite features are enabled by a Qualcomm X65 modem inside the phones. An Apple statement to Reuters also said that custom Apple-designed radio frequency components and software also make the satellite feature possible.

The Qualcomm X65 modem enables 5G cellular connectivity for phone calls and data, but also and ‘band n53’ which enables the iPhone to communicate with satellites in the sky. Specifically, Apple has partnered with satellite infrastructure managed by Globalstar.

Emergency SOS via Satellite will be available when the user initiates an Emergency SOS call, but fails to connect to a cell tower. In that case, the phone will present the option to connect to satellite and send a short text message instead. Users will need a clear view of the sky for the feature to work; iOS will direct the user to point their device to line up with satellites overhead.

If local emergency services can use text-based channels, the iPhone will transmit these messages directly via the satellite link. If not, Apple relay centers will receive the SOS message and call the emergency services on your behalf.

This service will be free for two years, starting in November. Apple has not disclosed pricing plans for the satellite service after that free period is up. Country availability is limited to United States and Canada initially.

It is an open secret that Apple’s chip teams are currently working on an in-house 5G modem with the aim to expunge Qualcomm parts from the iPhone entirely, with primary goals of power efficiency (longer battery life) and reducing royalty payments to improve unit cost margins of every iPhone sold.

However, making a modem is incredibly complicated and many analysts remain skeptical if Apple will succeed. Apple hopes to replicate the success of its custom silicon investments for the A-series and M-series SoCs. The consensus of the rumor mill currently expects the first Apple modem to be ready for primetime in 2024.

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