Smartphones look to satellites –

Internet from space directly in your smartphone. This is the new trend among digital giants, including Huawei, Apple or Elon Musk. The announcements are linked to allow communication through satellites.

In a smartphone market plagued by inflation, supply problems and in need of significant innovations, major brands and telecom operators are eyeing the constellation nanosatellites in orbit around the Earth at less than 2000 km.

At the end of August, Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink) presented his alliance with the operator T Mobile and its 80 million subscribers in the United States. From next year, his company Starlink will provide an Internet connection everywhere in the USA, thanks to its 2000 mini-satellites.

The two other American telecom giants have also signed strategic agreements. Verizon with satellites from Amazon and AT&T with OneWeb. The race is on with a promise: customers will be able to send messages even if there’s no terrestrial 4G or 5G. No more white areas without connection.

The “Satphone” market

Even though satellite phone technology is old, it is still in its infancy for the general public. Among the precursors, the start-up Lynk succeeded in 2020 to send an SMS directly from a satellite to a normal telephone. The way is open.

Apple’s Satellite Message System [Apple]Smartphone manufacturers, too, are betting on satellites. The latest iPhone 14s can send text messages to the United States thanks to space. Initially, Apple is offering this service free of charge for two years.

This is an emergency message only. The technology “combines bespoke components tightly integrated with software to allow antennas to connect directly to a satellite to send a message to emergency services when cellular or Wi-Fi coverage is absent,” the statement said. from Apple.

Chinese manufacturers are not left out. The new Mate 50 is also able to communicate with satellites and send alert messages. Huawei signed an agreement with Beidou, the Chinese GPS system.

Network everywhere

But we are still far from the efficiency of 5G terrestrial antennas. It takes, for example, at least 1 minute to send a small satellite message with the iPhone 14. “The Satellite Emergency Call feature has been designed for outdoor use with a clear view of the sky,” the statement said. from Apple. Trees and houses can disrupt the link.

For the moment, it is above all a question of being able to send an emergency message, only in text, when you are in difficulty in the mountains or at sea. But the speed will gradually increase. Starlink is already announcing for next year a speed of up to 4 megabytes per second in an area.

The service “won’t have the kind of bandwidth that a Starlink terminal would have, but will allow texting, pictures, and if there aren’t too many people in the mobile area, you might even potentially have some video,” says Elon Musk.

Always more satellites

The marketing discourse is well established. By enabling these emergency calls, mobile phones will save lives. But it’s also a big business deal. The encounter between two worlds.

On the one hand, smartphone sellers who are struggling to find innovations to sell phones and, on the other hand, satellite operators who must quickly make the millions invested in their constellations of nanosatellites profitable.

Apple has just financed the launch of the 17 satellites of Globalstar, its new partner, for 300 million francs. In exchange, they will be able to use 85% of the bandwidth. In the meantime, the launches of new satellites are going well.

Starlink already rotates 2000 satellites. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently announced plans to launch some 3,200 satellites. China wants 13,000 satellites for its Guowang constellation. Finally, the European Union should have its own network of 250 satellites by 2024.

Pascal Wassmer

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