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Apple Expands Satellite Messaging Capabilities With iOS 18

By Rachel Jewett | June 11, 2024
Apple demonstrates how iPhones can connect to satellite. Screenshot via Apple

Apple shows how iPhones can connect to satellite. Screenshot via Apple

Apple is expanding the capabilities of its satellite messaging on the iPhone. The new iOS 18 update will broaden the availability beyond emergency messaging, and Messages via satellite will be an option when cellular and Wi-Fi connections are not available. 

Apple announced the update as part of its iOS 18 announcement on June 10. However, it is only for phones that already enable the emergency satellite messaging, which includes the iPhone 14 and subsequent models. 

Apple said in the Monday announcement that the expansion uses the same technology as Emergency SOS via satellite. Messages via satellite will automatically prompt users to connect to the nearest satellite right from the Messages app when they are out of reach of cellular service. This will allow iPhone users to send and receive texts, emoji, and tapbacks over iMessage and SMS. 

Messages sent via satellite will have the same end-to-end encryption as typical iMessages. 

Apple was the first phone manufacturer to bring satellite connectivity to standard phones with the introduction of the iPhone 14 in 2022. To make the satellite-to-cell connection possible, Apple designed and built custom components and specific software and algorithms so that iPhone 14 antennas can connect to the unique frequencies of satellites. It also built ground infrastructure to take data packets relayed from a satellite to emergency services.

Apple partners with Globalstar for the satellite connectivity component. Globalstar is going through a refresh of its satellite constellation with satellite manufacturer MDA, which will support Apple satellite connectivity. Globalstar leadership recently confirmed the constellation remains on schedule to launch in 2025

Apple won Via Satellite‘s Satellite Technology of the Year in 2022 for the emergency messaging via satellite.

There have been a number of updates in the satellite-to-cell market since Apple rolled out its service as more carriers and devices are pursuing satellite connectivity for standard phones. SpaceX is now in testing for direct-to-cell Starlink satellites with partner T-Mobile. Android has not made any major satellite announcements, but there are reports that T-Mobile customers using the Android 15 beta see their eligibility for satellite messaging. 

In addition, Verizon recently announced a $100 million deal with AST SpaceMobile for satellite direct-to-cellular service for its customers. Now Verizon and AT&T are both working with AST SpaceMobile, but the company has not yet launched its satellites that will operate the service.