In light of the recent claim that the upcoming iPhone 13 will be able to connect to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, a new chip race might soon unfold between Qualcomm and MediaTek.
Reports indicate that a “customized” version of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X60 baseband chips is the key to iPhone 13’s satellite internet capability. If the said ability is confirmed, it would mean that Qualcomm might have an advantage in the race to develop mobile chips catered to satellite internet. According to the latest data released by Counterpoint Research, as of Q2 2021, MediaTek has overtaken Qualcomm in the mobile chip market, capturing a 38% market share, while Qualcomm had only a 32% share.
MediaTek itself trialed satellite internet last year, together with Inmarsat, a British satellite telecommunications company. During the trial, according to MediaTek, its satellite-enabled standard NB-IoT device successfully established a bi-directional link with Inmarsat‘s Alphasat L-band satellite in Geostationary Orbit. The success, as Inmarsat put it, demonstrated that mobile network technology, with little modification, could work effectively work GEO satellites.
Following the rumor, various disputes have already surfaced, challenging the claim over iPhone 13’s satellite capability. Central to this dispute is the role of Globalstar, an American LEO satellite communications company. Earlier this year, Qualcomm included Globalstar’s Band n53 in its new 5G X65 chip. However, n53 is a terrestrial spectrum that is not used for satellite connections. In addition, it has been disputed that Qualcomm’s X65 chips are used in the next iPhones. As previously indicated, iPhone 13 will carry X60 chips. It cannot be completely ruled out that a customized version of X60 chips might still have satellite communications enabled, with the latest news indicating that future iPhones do have satellite communications enabled.