Why You Might Want to Communicate via Satellite

No more dead zones

Key Takeaways

  • Apple’s next iPhone is rumored to include the ability to communicate via satellite. 
  • The iPhone 13 will be able to make emergency satellite calls and send messages in areas without cellular coverage. 
  • There are many satellite communications options already on the market if you need to chat in remote areas.
Someone talking on a satellite phone from the top of a hill.

massimo colombo / Getty Images

Rumors are flying that the next iPhone might have satellite communications, and there’s a lot to be said for pinging signals from the sky. 

The iPhone 13 will be able to make emergency satellite calls and send messages in areas without cellular coverage, according to a recent report by Bloomberg. The iPhone would join the rapidly growing field of personal satellite communications. 

"Reliability and coverage are satellite communication's biggest advantages over terrestrial networks like cellular," James Kubik, CEO of Somewear Labs, which sells a satellite hotspot, told Lifewire in an email interview. "While terrestrial networks are well suited for everyday use in urban environments, they are vulnerable to forces of nature—hurricanes, tornados, and other natural disasters—and extremely limited in remote environments."

iPhone Me Up, Scotty?

Apple is planning to launch its own satellites to boost data coverage, but that won’t be in the cards for years, Bloomberg reports. 

The key factor that makes the iPhone 13 a satellite communicator is in its guts. The new iPhone reportedly will use a  Qualcomm X60 modem for satellite service. However, Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman said that costs and operating agreements with traditional phone providers would likely keep Apple from offering a way to bypass conventional cellular networks.

iPhone Satellite Alternatives

There are plenty of options already on the market if you want to chat by satellite.

"While cell phones only work when they can bounce a signal off of the closest cell tower, satellite phones work whenever they have a clear view of the sky," polar expedition guide and wilderness medicine instructor Gaby Pilson told Lifewire in an email interview.

"This could be outside your home or high up in the mountains of Alaska. So long as you can see the sky, you have a good shot of getting a signal with a satellite phone or messaging device."

There are two main types of satellite communicators available. The first is a less expensive and easy-to-use two-way emergency pager-type solution that allows users to send their location and short texts in an emergency. For example, the $249.99 SPOT X provides two-way satellite messaging when you’re off the grid or beyond reliable cellular coverage. 

Chatty outdoors lovers might want to consider an actual satellite phone, which lets you talk even from the tops of remote mountains. The $1,145 Iridium Extreme offers up to four hours of talk time and 30 hours of standby. 

Currently, there are a few main satellite networks that are available for civilian use. The big names are Iridium, Globalstar, and Inmarsat. 

Someone using a satellite phone in a snow-covered mountain range.

Cavan Images / Getty Images

"People can argue all day over which network is better, though the reality is that they’re all pretty much the same except in the polar regions," Pilson said. "On the off-chance that you find yourself there, Iridium satellites are the way to go."

More Work to Be Done

At the moment, there are relatively few options for turning your regular cell phone into a satellite communication device, and they’re all quite expensive, Pilson said. One of the most popular options is the Iridium GO!. This little device connects with pretty much any smart device and allows you to send messages, place calls, and surf the web using your satellite connection.

One factor that deters many casual satellite users is cost. For example, an Iridium monthly plan that includes 150 minutes of talking and 150 text messages costs $109.95 per month. 

Also, don’t count on long web surfing on your iPhone 13 or other satellite phones just yet. 

Satellite broadband networks communicate with ground station equipment mounted on masts or buildings. The power those ground terminals need to send signals back to satellites is significant, telecommunications expert David Witkowski, an IEEE senior member, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"Smartphones, tablets, and other personal devices might be able to receive signals from satellites, but they don't have the battery capacity to transmit signals back to space," he added. "So the first thing we'd need is much better batteries for our devices."

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