Apple ‘Working On Secret Satellite Data Project’

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iPhone maker hiring engineers to develop satellite data tech, potentially allowing it to link iPhones direclty to satellite data services

Apple is hiring engineers to work on satellite technology that could be used to link internet services to mobile devices, bypassing cellular networks, according to a report.

The iPhone maker has hired about a dozen engineers from the aerospace, satellite and antenna design industries for the project and is aiming to deploy it within five years, Bloomberg reported.

While the project is at an early stage and lacks a clear focus, the news service said Apple chief Tim Cook had shown an interest, indicating it is a company priority.

The aim of the project is likely to be linking satellite-based data services directly to mobile devices, Bloomberg said.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink satellites into orbit. SpaceX
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches Starlink satellites into orbit. SpaceX

Satellite tech

But it isn’t clear whether Apple is looking to develop its own satellite constellation or to create on-the-ground technology that could create a data link from mobile devices to existing satellite systems.

One goal cold be to improve location tracking for Apple devices, enabling improved maps and other new features, Bloomberg speculated.

Apple has begun hiring software and hardware experts for the team in recent months, Bloomberg said.

The satellite group is led by Michael Trela and John Fenwick, former aerospace engineers who headed Google’s satellite and spacecraft operations before leaving to join Apple in 2017.

Broadband in the sky

The satellite industry is notoriously capital-intensive, and has led to multi-billion-pound failures including Iridium, which filed for bankruptcy in 1999, and Teledesic, which abandoned a satellite-based internet system more than a decade ago.

Facebook, SpaceX and Amazon are all working on satellite-based data projects, but they are still in the early stages and none are near to generating revenue.

Apple is planning to launch a 5G iPhone in 2020 as the next-generation cellular data networking technology becomes more widely available.

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