Satellite smartphones could answer the call for rural connectivity

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Satellite smartphones could answer the call for rural connectivity

Smartphones with satellite connectivity could eventually prove vital to rural communities, providing voice, data and broadband to Americans living in underserved markets. Advances in battery density, chipset processing power, and antenna technology now allow smartphones to connect to satellites for some basic services.

Satellite smartphones have gained momentum following recent announcements from Apple, T-Mobile and SpaceX. Working with Globalstar, Apple equipped their new iPhone 14 with satellite service, giving them a two-year head start in the market. T-Mobile and SpaceX have announced plans to offer smartphone satellite connectivity, with beta testing expected to begin in late 2023.

Satellite smartphones could have a profound impact on residents of rural communities as technology advances and more robust service offerings become available, according to a new report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange.

“At first, the service options available through satellite phone connectivity will be limited to basic text and SOS messaging,” said Jeff Johnston, chief communications economist for CoBank. “But as more satellites are launched over the next few years, voice calling and more advanced data applications should become available. And smartphones equipped with satellite technology will work anywhere in the United States, regardless of coverage. cellular.”

The ability to make calls and send messages in remote areas where no cell service exists would provide some rural residents with options and flexibility that were previously unimaginable. However, cost will be a key determinant of consumer adoption and the finer details of pricing remain unclear.

Apple provides the service for free for the first two years, and it remains to be seen what they will charge after that. However, it’s reasonable to assume that Apple will keep the price low and use the service to boost iPhone sales, given its first-mover advantage. T-Mobile said satellite services will be free on its most popular plans, but it’s unclear how much those plans will cost when T-Mobile rolls out the service in 2024.

While it may seem like consumers may eventually hope to cancel their wireless carrier service and use satellite service exclusively, Johnston said that’s highly unlikely.

“Satellite smartphones need a clear line of sight to the sky, which would limit service in urban and suburban areas,” he said. “And the capital required to create network capacity in a satellite network comparable to what is currently available in terrestrial networks would be incredibly high. The return on investment would never be in pencil.”

Wireless carriers interested in pursuing satellite connectivity could take the T-Mobile approach and offer service directly with SpaceX or a similar satellite carrier. The other option is to partner with Apple, or presumably Samsung, as they would also have to partner directly with a satellite operator.

Watch a video synopsis and read the report, Niche for Now, Satellite Smartphones Could Answer the Call for Rural Connectivity, at https://bit.ly/3DzekZl

Source: CoBank

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