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


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

The photo, the screen, the power… So many classic elements, to which is added a new workhorse from the makers of premium smartphones. The satellite connection seems to be one of the new favorite topics of big business, a practical technology whose principle is not really new, but which took time before it was really implemented.

Huawei and Apple, pioneers 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 series, the Chinese manufacturer shared a small pellet that presented the satellite connection of its flagship. The latter is based on 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 series. The ad preview of the conference also suggests that this will be one of the big themes that Tim Cook and his teams address. 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 from 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 collaboration 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 recipients of the quirky South African CEO.

By the end of 2023, Android phones should also support satellite communications. 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 further details have been provided. 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 communicating via satellite?

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A compound 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 unavailable. This is a way to contact emergency services, e.g.

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

© invincible_bulldog / Getty Images

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 can take up to a minute, which may seem long, but in case of emergency it 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 free to use. Fortunately, moreover, for a service that should help in case of an urgent need. To also see if the deployment will be international, or if only the US (and China in the case of the Mate 50) will be able to benefit from it in the first place – which is not impossible.

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