Huawei, Apple: after 5G, the rush towards satellite connection on our smartphones

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Still reserved for trades or specific uses, the satellite connection is coming to our smartphones. The Huawei Mate 50 inaugurates the technology and the iPhone 14 should be equipped with it, before being joined by Android within a year.

The photo, the screen, the power… So many classic elements to which is added a recent workhorse of the manufacturers of premium smartphones. The satellite connection seems to be one of the new favorite subjects of large firms, a practical technology whose principle is not really new, but which took time before being really implemented.

Huawei and Apple, precursors in this field

We expected – wrongly – Apple on this ground with the iPhone 13, but Huawei is finally the first company to announce a smartphone with a connection of this type. During the presentation of its new Mate 50 range, the Chinese manufacturer split a small pellet presenting the satellite connectivity of its flagship. The latter is based on the Beidou Satellite Message, a company service known for its GPS navigation system.

During the September 7 keynote, Apple should logically announce its support for the iPhone 14 range. The announcement visual of the conference also suggests that this will be one of the major themes addressed by Tim Cook and his teams. According to journalist Mark Gurman, the Cupertino company should rely on the Globalstar system. And to believe the rumor, Apple would have offered access to 17 satellites of the company for several hundred million dollars.

Elon Musk recently announced the launch of Starlink V2 satellites into orbit from 2023. An operation carried out in partnership with the American operator T-Mobile, which would therefore allow smartphones to connect to the SpaceX service. It remains to be seen whether Apple and its iPhone 14 will be the first beneficiaries of the whimsical South African CEO.

By the end of 2023, Android phones should also support satellite communication. The information comes directly from Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president of platforms and ecosystems at Google, incidentally one of the founders of Android. Version 14 of the operating system will therefore allow connection to satellites, although no additional details have been advanced. Will the future Pixel 8 be the first to integrate the technology or will we have to wait until early 2024 to see the first Android smartphones communicate via satellite?

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A connection to fill dead zones

Satellite phones are nothing new, but are typically used by the military, on oil rigs, and even in high mountains. As their name suggests, these mobiles can use satellites to communicate more or less quickly when the traditional mobile network dedicated to smartphones is inaccessible. This is a way to contact emergency services, for example.

The satellite connection on smartphone could help you out of this kind of situation.

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However, the satellite connection on a smartphone may not be as efficient. Initially, smartphones will only use SMS, which can take up to 30 minutes to be transmitted. To connect to a satellite, it will be necessary to be outside, but also to be in motion. The connection could take up to a minute, which may seem long, but in case of distress becomes a lesser evil. With version V2 of Starlink, Elon Musk promises SMS and MMS sending with compatible messaging apps. Data and voice should arrive later, with speeds of between 2 and 4 MB/s to be shared between people in the coverage area.

Then comes the question of cost. According to the first information circulating, everything should be usable for free. Fortunately, moreover, for a service supposed to help in case of urgent need. To also see if the deployment will be international or if only the United States (and China in the case of the Mate 50) will be able to benefit from it at first – which is not impossible, after all.

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