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Apple may launch satellites to beam data to your iPhone from space

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It's early days now, but at some point in the future, iPhones could get their internet from the starry skies above.

Apple has started work on a top-secret internal project to use satellites as a means for transmitting data to its devices, Bloomberg reports. As of now, the team on the job is about a dozen strong, and Cupertino's goal is to deploy some aspect of the service by 2025 — though it's also possible that the initiative is canned well before then.

The problem is, Apple reportedly hasn't determined an obvious use case at this point to justify the technology. Bloomberg's report theorizes the company is hoping to use satellites to offload some of the burden placed on terrestrial cellular networks, or perhaps as a fallback when no ordinary network is available. There are also potential applications in improved location tracking and GPS.

However, beaming internet from space has never really caught on, despite attracting the ambition of many startups over the past two decades. Recently, Amazon and SpaceX have announced separate plans to provide under-served parts of the globe with internet access using satellites, and SpaceX says its deployment could go online by the middle of next year.

In Apple's case, it's unclear whether the company intends to put up the constellation itself, or partner with an aerospace firm, like Boeing or Lockheed Martin.

Still, if Apple can pull it off, it might lessen the company's dependence on wireless carriers to provide the data pipeline for its devices. Over the last few years, Apple has demonstrated an eagerness to bring some of the components and services it used to rely on outside suppliers and third parties for in house. In fact, the company just completed its purchase of Intel's mobile modem business earlier this month, meaning that eventually, future iPhones won't need to source modems from Qualcomm.

The satellite plan could serve a similar purpose, though it would likely be a much more arduous undertaking. To that end, Bloomberg reports Apple has hired a number of experts spanning the aerospace and wireless industries, including Ashley Moore Williams of Aerospace Corp.; Daniel Ellis, who headed up Netflix's content delivery network; and Matt Ettus, of Ettus Research, a wireless equipment supplier.

Only time will tell if we'll see Apple's initiative bear fruit. The project does have the endorsement of CEO Tim Cook, which certainly bodes well for its development, at least for now. Until then, it seems the iPhone 12 will just have to make do with plain old 5G — heaven forbid.