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Hold on! Apple's iPhone 13 - illegal for 40% of the world's population due to satellite connectivity?!

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Hold on! Apple's iPhone 13 - illegal for 40% of the world's population due to satellite connectivity
Satellite phones offer call and text-based communication. The service is transmitted exclusively via satellites through different networks like Globalstar, Iridium, Inmarsat. If you want to find out how different satellite networks work, and how the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 are going to ulitize them, head to this story.

Unlike traditional satellite phones, when it comes to the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14, satellite connectivity is (initially) expected to boil down to emergency calls. If you have an iPhone, you'd probably know there's an SOS option when you hold down the power and one of the volume buttons. Apple's plan is to make this "Emergency SOS" feature work through satellite connection (not exclusively). 

As per the most recent report coming from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 satellite features will only be available in select markets. This is an insightful, yet vague reveal, so let's try and elaborate on it. Would Apple's satellite-connected iPhone 13 be available only in the US, or perhaps would it be optional according to the market? What if it's illegal? Spoiler: Yes, it might be.

iPhone 13 satellite connection: Keeping you always connected in case of an emergency 

Apple has a chance to disrupt the market and bring another unique and exclusive feature to the end-user thanks to the customized Qualcomm X60 baseband chip with support for satellite connectivity. Bear in mind, this chip wasn't supposed to be featured on phones until at least 2022. 

  • Of course, it's going to be absolutely wonderful to have a satellite connection on your iPhone in case you decide to climb a mountain, sail in the open ocean, or simply find yourself in an emergency due to a natural disaster that limits cell service and Wi-Fi connectivity.

  • Also, the iPhone 13's satellite connection capabilities might be way more affordable than those of traditional satellite phones when it comes to plans and outgoing calls/texts. Of course, we are only speculating, but if satellite connectivity is about to reach smartphones (even if it's for emergency calls/texts), it's likely that Apple will bring the price of satellite communication down, which will be amazing for the end-user.

  • The iPhone 13 would literally always connected. This has never happened before, so it's a bigger deal than you might think. If you can't rely on Wi-Fi, there's 5G/4G; if you can't rely on 5G, there are satellites. Again - remember, this feature is said to be for emergencies only - at least in the beginning. Furthermore, satellite connection isn't nearly as fast as 5G or Wi-Fi, so you won't be able to do much more than texting/calling.

iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 satellite connection: Potential challenges for Apple's satphone plans


Is owning a satellite iPhone legal?


You might be wondering: "Why is Apple limiting satellite connection to just emergency texts/calls?" Well, for starters, Cupertino is probably testing the ground, before deciding to commit... fully. However, another, much better reason is that it might be... illegal.

In case you didn't know, satellite phones are either fully banned or permission for their use isn't easily obtainable in (at least) 14 countries, which you'll find listed below. We've gone and done the maths for you - that's roughly 3.25 billion of the world's population (7.8 billion), which is just over 41% of people who might not be able to take advantage of the iPhone 13's satellite connection at launch (for one reason or another).

In fact, if Apple decides to make the feature US-only (we'll talk about that below), even less people will be able to take advantage of it. The thing is, even if you are a US citizen, who bought an iPhone 13 or iPhone 14, its satellite-related features might very well be a problem, if you travel in any of these countries:

  • Bangladesh
  • Burma (Myanmar)
  • Chad
  • China
  • Cuba
  • Ethiopia
  • India
  • Nicaragua
  • North Korea (What a shock!)
  • Russia
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sudan
  • Turkmenistan
  • South Sudan

So, is there a solution? Probably. However, Tim Cook will be skating on thin ice...


Option 1: Perhaps Apple will have to make this feature optional. As of now, the only smartphone that can connect to satellites (Thuraya X5) lets you toggle the feature on/off just like 4G/5G or Wi-Fi. This still doesn't make the iPhone a non-satellite phone though.

Option 2: Another "solution" might be that Apple will ship iPhone 13 models without Qualcomm's X60 baseband chip for satellite connection in some of the countries where satellite phones are banned, illegal, or simply likely to cause trouble for the owner. That's especially crucial for India and China, which are important markets for Apple, but yet very strict on satellite phone use.

Option 3: As hinted above, another option is that like many new features, satellite calls/texts might be exclusive to the US at launch. This is going to be a pilot study for the domestic market, and while it's unfortunate that people in other parts of the world might not get it, it would be understandable, if Apple has to go with it. A big hint that this might be exactly what will happen is that Apple's satellite network partner for this venture is Globalstar.

NOTE: Globalstar's coverage satellite coverage is strongly focused on the US, Europe, Australia and parts of South America. So, Apple's decision to partner with Globalstar wouldn't be a coincidence.  Literally every single country listed above (except Nicaragua) that forbid owning a satellite phone is not located in the North America, Europe, South America, or Australia (duh!).

What if satellite iPhones fall into the wrong hands?



If Apple were to open the satellite network for a wider variety of use case scenarios, another challenge might be potential abuse of the features, if the iPhones fall into the wrong hands. Now, disclaimer: this is very much theoretical, but terrorist organizations might be able to take advantage of a widespread satellite network of iPhones. The iPhone is a phone pretty much anyone can get ahold of. Therefore, Cupertino's decision to limit satellite texts/calls to emergencies seems to be the right one.

If you happen to be abroad or even in the US, there are going to be external factors that might affect your ability to use a satellite connection on your iPhone. If the government decides to shut the network down, you are out of luck. For example, back in 2013, the army in Nigeria announced a ban on satellite phones and had to shut down all communication networks in the northern state of Borno due to terrorist attacks in the area.

In another case from 2018, Indian police seized the satellite phones of four German officials who didn't declare the devices on arrival. The satphones were given to the Germans by their company. However, satellite phones are banned for foreign nationals in India.

In the end...



The easiest way to find out if you are allowed to use a satellite phone or if your provider supports it as a feature (it often needs to be exclusively enabled on demand) is to contact your embassy in the foreign country where you plan to travel to, or just check government websites.

Calling your provider will also help. In the case of the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14, you might not need to go through any of this, because the feature will (initially) be limited to emergency taxts/calls.

We are extremely curious to see how Apple plans to handle these technical, political, and socio-cultural aspects of launching a mainstream smartphone that's capable of satellite connection.

In the end, we don't want to make it sound more serious than it is - the satellite texts (perhaps at some point calls too) will only be utilized in emergency situations when they hit the iPhone, which is expected to happen in 2022.

iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max are set to become official on September 14. According to Bloomberg, although Qualcomm's modified X60 modem will indeed be in the iPhone 13, Apple might hold on until next year to actually enable satellite connectivity, when the iPhone 14 will become a thing as well. It's another "future-proofing" step from Apple, and we aren't surprised at all.

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