Tech InDepth: Satellite connectivity on phones, how it works and India availability rules – The Indian Express

We are a week away from Apple’s new iPhone 14 series and unsurprisingly, rumours and leaks are running rampant across the web. From the new notch to fast charging support, one particular feature that may have Apple fans intrigued is the rumoured satellite connectivity feature, which in theory, should let the iPhone communicate even in the absence of cellular networks.
While Apple hasn’t confirmed the same yet, the feature could be unveiled with the new iPhones themselves on September 7 at Apple Park. But what exactly is satellite connectivity? How does it work on phones? What benefits does it offer users and most importantly, will we get to see the feature in action in India? Let’s find out in today’s edition of Tech InDepth.
In case the names haven’t given it away already, satellite connectivity relies on, well, satellites. Unlike cellular networks, which rely on cellular towers in your vicinity, satellite phones have the advantage of working in remote areas.
This is because while cellular towers form a pretty solid connectivity network across the planet, they’re limited to the location of nearby towers, in the absence of which, the connection could go bad, or become entirely useless. For satellites though, which usually cover most of the globe through multi-network triangulation, spotty coverage is not a limiting factor, as long as you’re on the surface of the planet.
These devices are useful when you’re in regions with bad network coverage and need to contact for help immediately. Instances can include anything from you getting lost on a solo hike in the mountains to being part of a ship in the middle of the sea. Satellite phones will also work in case of a large-scale power outage.
To use a satellite phone, you will need three things – a satellite phone, a satellite connectivity network, and a significant budget, because using a satellite phone is expensive.
There are a few satellite connectivity providers. These are Iridium, Inmarsat, Thuraya and Globalstar. Apple is reportedly partnering with the latter to bring the feature to its iPhone 14-series, as per leaks and rumours.
Unlike using a regular cell phone or smartphone, where you can switch SIM services immediately by swapping out your SIM cards, satellite phones will work on a single network only. So, if you buy an Iridium phone, it will only work on the Iridium network.
Every satellite connectivity provider also has its Pros and Cons. If you use an Iridium phone, for instance, you will get wider coverage across the planet. Even if you’re in an area where your phone is not able to connect to any of Iridium’s satellites, waiting for a while should get you connected as the satellites above you are constantly in motion. However, this would also mean you could lose your connectivity again when the satellite moves out of position.
On the other hand, Inmarsat satellites are known to be positioned further away from the atmosphere, and to be in perfect geo synchronisation with the Earth’s orbit. This lets the satellites stay in place with respect to Earth’s position. While this ensures stable connectivity, it also means if you don’t get any range in a particular area, you’re pretty much helpless until you move into one of the satellite’s ranges.
You can check for the connectivity range of every satellite phone service by visiting their website.
After you get a satellite phone, you must also pay for monthly/yearly plans which can amount to hundreds of dollars each year. For all that money, you will also not get a lot of actual talk-time with these plans, which means you will need to shell out more money should you run out of limits.
With the cost of satellite phones themselves going from about $500 to $1000 and above, and plans costing additional money, a lot of people consider renting a satellite phone instead. This makes sense if you are say, on a vacation in a remote region and require a satellite phone only for the duration of the vacation.
Now that you know how a satellite phone works, can you actually use one in India? Yes, but there are a few restrictions.
First, no satellite phone can be brought into the country from overseas. If you need to use a satellite phone inside the country, you must purchase it in India from an authorised distributor. Importing a satellite phone can, however, be allowed provided you have legal permission from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1933 mentions that “no person shall possess wireless telegraphy apparatus except under and in accordance with a licence issued under this Act.”
Second, the use of Thuraya and Iridium satellite phones has also been banned in India after the 2011 Mumbai terrorist attack, and a DGS (Directorate General of Shipping) circular prevents satellite phones from these manufacturers from being used in India. While this does leave Inmarsat phones for usage, one must obtain legal permits from the DoT and any other concerned authorities for the same. There also isn’t much information on the availability of Globalstar satellite phones in India at the moment.
The ban also extends to dual-connectivity phones (devices that use both satellite and GSM connectivity) and sat-sleeves (devices that adapt a regular phone for satellite connectivity), as per a Gard report.
Coming to the iPhone 14-series, Apple Analyst Ming Chi-Kuo had previously suggested in a report that Apple is partnering with Globalstar for its satellite connectivity features. While this hasn’t been confirmed yet, know that Apple will likely have to lock the feature for its phones sold in India, unless the brand manages to get the feature the legal permits it needs to work in the country.
In summary, while the iPhone 14-series getting possible satellite connectivity is a great step in the direction of bringing more seamless connectivity to users, we may not see the feature in India, at least immediately due to legal complications. For readers who reside in countries where satellite communication is more hassle-free, Apple should reveal its subscription plans for the same during its launch event, which is taking place on September 7 next week.
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Chetan NayakChetan Nayak is a tech journalist at indianexpress.com who loves tinke… read more

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