Elon Musk and T-Mobile try beating Apple with satellite vaporware

Posted:
in iPhone edited August 2022
Just in case Apple unveils satellite communications for the iPhone 14, Elon Musk and T-Mobile have tried to beat it to the punch by investing in vaporware heralded by a press event.

T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert (left) and SpaceX's Elon Musk (right)
T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert (left) and SpaceX's Elon Musk (right)


We won't know until September 7 whether it's true that Apple's iPhone 14 will include satellite-based communications for users in areas without cell coverage. However, based on evidence of Apple's research and deals over the last two years, plus a studied reading of the "Far Out" press invitation, it does look likely.

Or at least it looks likely enough that T-Mobile and Elon Musk's SpaceX have raced to beat Apple to the launch -- in a way. The two companies are not actually going to bring phone coverage to rural USA today, but they have decided to talk about it as if they will.

What T-Mobile and SpaceX propose

Specifically, the two companies say that they are collaborating to use SpaceX's satellites and T-Mobile's mid-range spectrum cell signal for what's implied to be phone coverage for all. Or nearly all, as the announcement starts by saying it's for "everywhere," then quietly adjusts that to "practically everywhere."

The combination of the two companies is essential. For satellite communications in a smartphone, you need the satellites and SpaceX has its Starlink group of them, or at least it plans to launch sufficient of them over the next years.

This is really how the two companies can make this announcement. SpaceX is going to launch satellites anyway and it costs nothing to say they'll be used for smartphone communications.

Physics, engineering, and launch windows being what they are, when they'll really launch and the payload being available is anybody's guess.

Apple doesn't have its own satellites and it will need at least a network that will connect to existing ones. However, one reason to think the feature is coming at some point is that in April 2022 it was reported to be working with a satellite firm Globalstar.

Apple's
Apple's "Far Out" reference may not mean satellite communications for iPhone, but T-Mobile and SpaceX aren't taking any chances


Then of course Apple has the smartphone side of the equation covered because it's about to launch the iPhone 14. Whether satellite communications come in that or the iPhone 15, Apple controls the hardware, so it can choose to include what features it wants.

T-Mobile can't make phones

T-Mobile can't do that. Rather than this meaning T-Mobile is incapable of providing the satellite communications service it now promises, however, the company has two ways of working around the problem.

One of them is very appealing. Without listing any specific phones, T-Mobile's announcement says that it will provide satellite communications for relatively modern smartphones with compatible modems. This probably means iPhone 12 and newer, but this list will get a little hairy on the Android side.

T-Mobile and SpaceX are proposing a second workaround to having users buy new phones. Their plan will not require people to buy new phones in order to make phone calls via a satellite -- because it won't let people make phone calls via a satellite.

It's one of those grand plan announcement where the details are sketchy, and the big promises come with terms and conditions. So for instance, the press release is headlined with, "New service aims to connect vast majority of smartphones already on TMobile's network to Starlink satellites."

"We've always thought differently about what it means to keep customers connected," said T-Mobile's Sievert in the same announcement, "and that's why we're working with the best to deliver coverage above and beyond anything customers have ever seen before."

This is a cell carrier company promising "coverage above and beyond," but not promising phone calls or data usage -- because they're not going to do that. Voice and data are not even in the plan.

"Text messaging, including SMS, MMS and participating messaging apps, will empower customers to stay connected and share experiences nearly everywhere," says one of the last paragraphs of the announcement. "Afterwards, the companies plan to pursue the addition of voice and data coverage."

This is solely about beating Apple's announcement

Right. They grandstand as if this is satellite cellphone coverage accomplished before Apple can even make its announcement, but really it's about maybe one day doing text messaging, eventually. Really it's solely about trying to beat Apple.

Since the point was to get this news out before Apple, there is only a passing nod toward giving a timescale for the promises. Together, T-Mobile and SpaceX won't commit to a date, but they do say the service should start by the end of next year.

So you may be able to get text message support in late 2023 -- if you're part of the firms' beta test. And, that is, if SpaceX's planned satellite launches go to schedule.

Consequently Apple may be promising iPhone satellite communications on September 7, 2022, but T-Mobile and Musk hope to beat it to the punch by letting you assume it will do the same thing in the next couple of years.

Don't expect to see smartphone satellite voice and data coverage in stores any time soon
Don't expect to see smartphone satellite voice and data coverage in stores any time soon


It won't.

Even if this is not another Elon Musk vaporware promise, what the two companies try to make sound so great is just empty.

Certainly, not everyone will be able to budget for an Apple iPhone that has satellite communications in it, given that the existing replacement cycle is pushing about 40 months on the average. But equally, no one who requires satellite communications is going to have their needs sated by satellite text messages.

So of the market for satellite communications via iPhone, some people will buy Apple's solution in order to get actual phone calls and data. Whereas some people will just carry on without cell coverage the way they now have for decades.

The people who buy Apple's solution will use Apple's satellites. The people who don't buy Apple's solution, won't buy T-Mobile and SpaceX's service because it won't do what they need.

Maybe Apple will announce satellite communications for iPhone 14 on September 7, or maybe it won't. But come late 2023, the most we'll see from T-Mobile and SpaceX is a beta test "in select areas," and offering only text messages.

Read on AppleInsider
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    geekmeegeekmee Posts: 629member
    The only difference is…
    ‘No wine before it’s time.’
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 24
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 3,196member
    It sounds like, if Apple does announce satellite communications, T-Mobile customers will be left out. Otherwise, why would T-Mobile bother with this?
    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 3 of 24
    Except none of this this new.  There's already functional satellite-to-phone connectivity with no special hardware.

    https://spacenews.com/lynk-satellite-testing/
    byronllordjohnwhorfinracerhomie3watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 24
    I’m sure this is connected to the current battle between SpaceX and Hughes about 5g spectrum usage. 
    Your slant on the story seems to somehow put Apple vs T-Mobile and I’m not sure why. The service is coming and it’s not a service provided by Apple. They’re just going to sell phones. It the satellites provide a cell phone service in a regular 5g spectrum I assume any phone built with radio support in that spectrum will work. Satellite providers will team will cell service providers, perhaps exclusively in the beginning, and cell phone makers will provide phones. 
    gatorguywatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 24
    netroxnetrox Posts: 1,418member
    Why is Apple involved? It's the carriers that need to offer that capability. Apple's iOS do not care about how carriers do networks as long as carriers deliver data. 


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 24
    You seem to be very adamant that that Apple's rumored satellite service will somehow be better than the announced TMobile satellite texting. Kuo and Gurman have both said it will likely be text only for Apple's service as well and even have gone so far as to say it may even only be available for emergency situations.
    byronlneoncatgatorguy
  • Reply 7 of 24
    If satellites signals can be used on smartphones, why this has not happened before? There are satellites on the sky for decades. 
  • Reply 8 of 24
    mac_dogmac_dog Posts: 1,069member
    cpsro said:
    It sounds like, if Apple does announce satellite communications, T-Mobile customers will be left out. Otherwise, why would T-Mobile bother with this?
    Which would be just fine with me. I like my t-mobile service, but want nothing to do with the Musk. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 24
    Here’s how it’s going to work: Musk will take your refundable $100 deposit so you can pre-order and keep your place in line for an amazing space service that may or may not ship at some time in the future.
    I wonder if he’s having his dancing robots build it.
    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 10 of 24
    "We've always thought differently..."

    Nice (bungled) callback to an Apple marketing slogan that's been defunct for twenty years, Mr. Sievert. That really makes me think you're truly looking ahead.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 24
    I can understand how a satellite is strong enough to send a signal down to earth that cell phones can receive. That would include receiving data. 

    But how is a cell phone able to generate enough energy for a signal all the way back to a satellite? 

    If you look at the transition from 4G to 5G and the density of antennas needed to render service, it’s a far cry to space…
    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 12 of 24
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,783member
    What? Elon Musk holding a press conference where he over sells something that doesn’t exist? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you. 
    sconosciutoStrangeDayswatto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 13 of 24
    Wow that is a lot of hate in one article.

    SpaceX has launched thousands of satellites in the last two years and is already operating it's "internet from space" network all over the globe.

    People mocked them two years ago......and now here we are, internet from frickin outer space!


  • Reply 14 of 24
    9secondkox29secondkox2 Posts: 2,700member
    Except starling is hardly vaporware. 

    Apple should make friends with starlink. 
    just cruisinwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 24
    Wow that is a lot of hate in one article.

    SpaceX has launched thousands of satellites in the last two years and is already operating it's "internet from space" network all over the globe.

    People mocked them two years ago......and now here we are, internet from frickin outer space!


    SpaceX has to have a lot of things go right for any sort of working beta by the end of 2023. This service will require their Starlink 2 satellites, of which they’ve launched zero because they are much larger than their current satellites and can’t fit on their reliable Falcon 9 rocket. So SpaceX needs to have its Starship and Super Heavy booster fully operational and flying at a cadence of what F9 does now very quickly. To make economic sense, Starship has to be reusable, therefore their completely unproven ground system of catching hovering rockets out of the sky with their launch tower has to work reliably as well. How will they launch the hundreds or thousands of satellites needed for a public beta in just 16 months? I think they barely have regulatory approval to launch 5 times per year from their Texas site so they are scrambling to build a new site in Florida. Getting a rocket from prototype to reliable orbital launch ready vehicle is tough and time consuming. And testing their ground system to catch a rocket will be hairier. One wrong move and an exploding rocket will take out their tower and that will take months to analyze, clean up, and replace.

    I’m not hating. I’m just realistic. Musk’s timeline, as always, is overly optimistic. He’s also known for his vaporware products that are either several years delayed or nonexistent. Semi trucks that beat the cost of rail? Self-driving robo-taxis that make owners money? The lie of Hyperloop? Battery-swapping stations for Teslas? Cybertruck delays. $35K Model 3s? New battery tech when they’re just buying Panasonic batteries.

    So far Musk has mostly kept the vaporware out of SpaceX, but he’s blowing smoke up people’s asses about Mars colonization and this satellite phone service beta available in 16 months. They’ll be lucky if they have enough birds in the sky to do internal testing of this service by end of 2023. After all, they still have NASA contracts to fulfill in that time too.
    muthuk_vanalingamdavenStrangeDaysforegoneconclusionwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 24
    hucom2000 said:
    I can understand how a satellite is strong enough to send a signal down to earth that cell phones can receive. That would include receiving data. 

    But how is a cell phone able to generate enough energy for a signal all the way back to a satellite? 

    If you look at the transition from 4G to 5G and the density of antennas needed to render service, it’s a far cry to space…
    The antenna in space is large, sensitive, and in direct line of sight.
    just cruisinwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 24
    davendaven Posts: 696member
    VCRandom said:
    hucom2000 said:
    I can understand how a satellite is strong enough to send a signal down to earth that cell phones can receive. That would include receiving data. 

    But how is a cell phone able to generate enough energy for a signal all the way back to a satellite? 

    If you look at the transition from 4G to 5G and the density of antennas needed to render service, it’s a far cry to space…
    The antenna in space is large, sensitive, and in direct line of sight.
    These are small satellites and have relatively small antennas. I’m thinking that the antenna may still not be large enough and that a new phone that can burst short duration signals may be needed. Such a system would be good for texting like the Garmin InReach satellite system (which I have for camping in remote areas) and low data use but not for voice communication. To save battery power, a device could listen for when a satellite is above and when a signal is detected, send the message and wait for the satellite response that the message was received. 
    edited August 2022 watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 18 of 24
    Wow that is a lot of hate in one article.

    SpaceX has launched thousands of satellites in the last two years and is already operating it's "internet from space" network all over the globe.

    People mocked them two years ago......and now here we are, internet from frickin outer space!


    SpaceX has to have a lot of things go right for any sort of working beta by the end of 2023. This service will require their Starlink 2 satellites, of which they’ve launched zero because they are much larger than their current satellites and can’t fit on their reliable Falcon 9 rocket. So SpaceX needs to have its Starship and Super Heavy booster fully operational and flying at a cadence of what F9 does now very quickly. To make economic sense, Starship has to be reusable, therefore their completely unproven ground system of catching hovering rockets out of the sky with their launch tower has to work reliably as well. How will they launch the hundreds or thousands of satellites needed for a public beta in just 16 months? I think they barely have regulatory approval to launch 5 times per year from their Texas site so they are scrambling to build a new site in Florida. Getting a rocket from prototype to reliable orbital launch ready vehicle is tough and time consuming. And testing their ground system to catch a rocket will be hairier. One wrong move and an exploding rocket will take out their tower and that will take months to analyze, clean up, and replace.

    I’m not hating. I’m just realistic. Musk’s timeline, as always, is overly optimistic. He’s also known for his vaporware products that are either several years delayed or nonexistent. Semi trucks that beat the cost of rail? Self-driving robo-taxis that make owners money? The lie of Hyperloop? Battery-swapping stations for Teslas? Cybertruck delays. $35K Model 3s? New battery tech when they’re just buying Panasonic batteries.

    So far Musk has mostly kept the vaporware out of SpaceX, but he’s blowing smoke up people’s asses about Mars colonization and this satellite phone service beta available in 16 months. They’ll be lucky if they have enough birds in the sky to do internal testing of this service by end of 2023. After all, they still have NASA contracts to fulfill in that time too.

    So it's mostly hatred of Musk that drives you?

    I bet two years ago you were saying Starlink would never happen.  Yet here I am, sending you a message over Starlink internet!

    That's not the only thing you're wrong about, the Version 2 satellites fit on Falcon 9 and that is their plan while they increase the flight cadence of the bigger Starship.


    pscooter63
  • Reply 19 of 24
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,865member
    Wow that is a lot of hate in one article.

    SpaceX has launched thousands of satellites in the last two years and is already operating it's "internet from space" network all over the globe.

    People mocked them two years ago......and now here we are, internet from frickin outer space!


    SpaceX has to have a lot of things go right for any sort of working beta by the end of 2023. This service will require their Starlink 2 satellites, of which they’ve launched zero because they are much larger than their current satellites and can’t fit on their reliable Falcon 9 rocket. So SpaceX needs to have its Starship and Super Heavy booster fully operational and flying at a cadence of what F9 does now very quickly. To make economic sense, Starship has to be reusable, therefore their completely unproven ground system of catching hovering rockets out of the sky with their launch tower has to work reliably as well. How will they launch the hundreds or thousands of satellites needed for a public beta in just 16 months? I think they barely have regulatory approval to launch 5 times per year from their Texas site so they are scrambling to build a new site in Florida. Getting a rocket from prototype to reliable orbital launch ready vehicle is tough and time consuming. And testing their ground system to catch a rocket will be hairier. One wrong move and an exploding rocket will take out their tower and that will take months to analyze, clean up, and replace.

    I’m not hating. I’m just realistic. Musk’s timeline, as always, is overly optimistic. He’s also known for his vaporware products that are either several years delayed or nonexistent. Semi trucks that beat the cost of rail? Self-driving robo-taxis that make owners money? The lie of Hyperloop? Battery-swapping stations for Teslas? Cybertruck delays. $35K Model 3s? New battery tech when they’re just buying Panasonic batteries.

    So far Musk has mostly kept the vaporware out of SpaceX, but he’s blowing smoke up people’s asses about Mars colonization and this satellite phone service beta available in 16 months. They’ll be lucky if they have enough birds in the sky to do internal testing of this service by end of 2023. After all, they still have NASA contracts to fulfill in that time too.

    So it's mostly hatred of Musk that drives you?

    I bet two years ago you were saying Starlink would never happen.  Yet here I am, sending you a message over Starlink internet!

    That's not the only thing you're wrong about, the Version 2 satellites fit on Falcon 9 and that is their plan while they increase the flight cadence of the bigger Starship.
    It's not hatred to not be a fanboy who refuses to question his overlord. Just Cruisin's facts were correct -- have we semi-trucks beating rail? Nope. Self-driving robo-taxis? Nope. Cybertruck? Nope. "Full self-driving"? Nope. The 100-year-old idea but promised hyperloop? Nope. Mars colonies? Nope. On & on with more over-promises, now including androids. Sure all great ideas, but ideas are the easy part. Implementing and doing so on the timelines announced are the hard part. (Solar Tiles have been installed but they won't be transparent on how many nor how efficient they actually are over time.)

    For more details you can watch this video: 



    It's fair to levy criticism. If Apple were making all these promises and not delivering on them, they'd be crucified by the tech press.


    edited August 2022 fastasleepwatto_cobralollivermuthuk_vanalingambeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 20 of 24
    Wow that is a lot of hate in one article.

    SpaceX has launched thousands of satellites in the last two years and is already operating it's "internet from space" network all over the globe.

    People mocked them two years ago......and now here we are, internet from frickin outer space!


    SpaceX has to have a lot of things go right for any sort of working beta by the end of 2023. This service will require their Starlink 2 satellites, of which they’ve launched zero because they are much larger than their current satellites and can’t fit on their reliable Falcon 9 rocket. So SpaceX needs to have its Starship and Super Heavy booster fully operational and flying at a cadence of what F9 does now very quickly. To make economic sense, Starship has to be reusable, therefore their completely unproven ground system of catching hovering rockets out of the sky with their launch tower has to work reliably as well. How will they launch the hundreds or thousands of satellites needed for a public beta in just 16 months? I think they barely have regulatory approval to launch 5 times per year from their Texas site so they are scrambling to build a new site in Florida. Getting a rocket from prototype to reliable orbital launch ready vehicle is tough and time consuming. And testing their ground system to catch a rocket will be hairier. One wrong move and an exploding rocket will take out their tower and that will take months to analyze, clean up, and replace.

    I’m not hating. I’m just realistic. Musk’s timeline, as always, is overly optimistic. He’s also known for his vaporware products that are either several years delayed or nonexistent. Semi trucks that beat the cost of rail? Self-driving robo-taxis that make owners money? The lie of Hyperloop? Battery-swapping stations for Teslas? Cybertruck delays. $35K Model 3s? New battery tech when they’re just buying Panasonic batteries.

    So far Musk has mostly kept the vaporware out of SpaceX, but he’s blowing smoke up people’s asses about Mars colonization and this satellite phone service beta available in 16 months. They’ll be lucky if they have enough birds in the sky to do internal testing of this service by end of 2023. After all, they still have NASA contracts to fulfill in that time too.
    The difference between SpaceX and Tesla/Hyperloop, etc is there's probably a lot of money from the US government in this effort...probably regular contract money as well as dark money.  There's no doubt that the CIA/NSA/etc are deeply plugged into this.
    watto_cobra
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