The Future of Satellite Phone Communications.

Last week Apple announced new iPhones with some exciting new features. When a cellular tower is out of reach, one function lets you know if you’ve been in an accident (provided your phone can make the connection), while another links your phone to a satellite in a very limited fashion.

A service that is not yet available but is being promoted by Starlink and T-Mobile should make Apple’s satellite service appear to have emerged from the modem era. All of them come after AST SpaceMobile, which will launch its first 4G/5G satellite next year to start offering service.

This week, let’s discuss the potential of satellite cellular services. We’ll finish up with my pick for the week, an inexpensive set of active noise-canceling headphones that might be ideal for people who travel a lot and need to sleep with them on.

Apple Meets a Demand
The first of these new generation services to launch will be Apple’s extremely constrained Emergency SOS via satellite service. One major benefit of it is that it will function well before the others reach a critical mass.

The limits of the Apple service only become an issue for Apple if the other services reach a critical mass because if you are in the middle of nowhere and in need of assistance, having a service that doesn’t yet function will be of little use to you. Expect that around 2025 or thereabouts.

This service only functions in open spaces with a clear line of sight to the sky, and I anticipate that occasionally you may need to move around a little to get a good signal. If you become trapped in a cave, fall into a ravine, or are in a bunker, it won’t function.

Still, a lot of people wind up stranded in the area where I reside every year. They are unaware that the weather can rapidly change here, and that if you are far from your car or civilization at the time in just shorts and a T-shirt, you will require rescue or you risk losing anything from a few fingers to your life.

Through menus, the app leverages the phone’s intelligence to shrink the message and deliver it to a helpful person after assisting you in finding a satellite. However, for this to function, you may need to wait anywhere from 15 seconds to several minutes to establish a clear line of sight to the satellite. Thus, you can still be out of luck if you have a broken limb or are otherwise crippled.

For this functionality, Apple and Globalstar are collaborating. Users of the iPhone 14, the only device to originally support this feature, will receive two years of this service at no cost. The first offering will surely get better by then, and there might even be alternatives.

The service is better than nothing, and for the time being, that is pretty much your only option unless you want to spend a lot of money on a pricey Iridium (or other satellite) phone. Iridium’s service is still more expensive than conventional cellular even though it is far less expensive than I remember it being.

T-Mobile and Starlink
Elon Musk has an idea a minute and many are shockingly terrific. Despite the fact that I worked with a man like Musk, I am aware of how difficult it is to work for or with someone of his caliber since, in general, he cannot distinguish between excellent and bad ideas.

Having said that, it is intriguing to consider using the Starlink satellites as a phone system. However, considering that Starlink currently has capacity problems, this service might make Starlink less desirable if it cuts bandwidth for current Starlink customers, which it almost certainly will.

Additionally, Musk frequently overpromises and underdelivers, misses deadlines for delivery, and causes a sizable amount of issues for his enterprises. However, SpaceX is the most affordable launch system now in use, is remarkably dependable, and the majority of Starlink reports I’ve seen have been remarkably excellent.

Personally, I would have held out on launching a new service on the network until Starlink was profitable and operating at scale, but that is not Musk’s style. His large, risky bets up until this point have largely paid off. He and his businesses are still just one critical error away from a calamity, though. Considering how complicated his businesses are, it seems practically guaranteed that he will ultimately run into a bad wall.

The service will first be more advanced than Apple’s satellite offering, but it won’t be genuine cellular, and it will require an upgrade to the Starlink satellites. In places where there is a sufficient number of the new satellites, full operation is anticipated by the following year. The beta of this service is rumored for late 2023. T-Mobile and Starlink are in an intriguing position to be the first to succeed with a satellite-based smartphone solution if it doesn’t achieve critical mass.

AST SpaceMobile

With collaborations with organizations like Vodafone and AT&T, AST SpaceMobile, which is scheduled to launch its low earth satellite in 2023, has a clear road for initial global coverage. To reach critical mass, they will require between 45 and 65 satellites, and this should happen before the end of 2025, providing there are no significant market changes or the advent of a superior rival technology.

With partnerships with companies like AT&T and Vodafone, AST SpaceMobile, which plans to launch its low earth orbit satellite in 2023, has a clear path toward achieving initial worldwide coverage. They will need between 45 and 65 satellites to attain critical mass, and this should happen before the end of 2025, assuming there are no significant market changes or the introduction of a superior competing technology.

It would undoubtedly be a step forward from ship-to-shore and the majority of radio systems for law enforcement and first responders operating in regions with either no cellular service or degraded cellular service. The constraints of the other two services won’t apply to AST SpaceMobile’s service, which will function similarly to ordinary cellular in that it will support both voice and data. However, it will always fall short of terrestrial cellular services in terms of quality and data speed.

This service ought to be better than what you currently receive on a flight and ought to operate on airplanes as well. Unlike airplanes, which only support data at the moment, it will support both speech and data (people have been against getting cellular coverage on planes for fear that those using it would drive them crazy with loud constant phone calls).

Conclusion
With Apple’s announcement last week, we have entered the era of consumer satellite cellular communications, when it may soon be possible to request assistance from any location in the world, regardless of the location of the nearest cell tower.

This might be quite helpful for those who get into difficulty or become lost in isolated regions and offer some degree of piece of mind to worried parents.

Apple is only the start. The data capacity promised by companies like Starlink and T-Mobile is significantly superior to Apple’s, and AST SpaceMobile advertises a global 4/5G cellular service that combines voice and data in the same approximate timeframe.

The concept of being out of service could become extinct by the second half of this decade, just as the requirement to locate a phone booth did in the 1990s. And that, my friends, is something to anticipate.

I have a lot of noise-cancelling headphones because I travel a lot.

Most headphones are not only extremely pricey, they also are not comfortable to sleep with on an aircraft. Many are above $250, which is too pricey for kids and adds up for me as well as I frequently leave things on aircraft. Furthermore, I dislike earphones and earplugs since they make my ears itchy, which makes it difficult for me to go asleep.

The Soundcore by Anker Space Q45 adaptive noise canceling headphones may be the ideal answer, as they allow you to sleep while wearing them. They are not the cheapest headphones on the market, with a retail price about $150 on Amazon, but they are far less expensive than the majority of the headphones I now own.

These have an over-the-ear design and really plush pads, making them considerably more comfortable for me over time than earbuds or on-ear items and much easier to sleep with than my Bose and Sony headphones.

The Space Q45 headphones have one of the best noise cancelling systems I’ve tried, with five degrees of noise cancellation that either start automatically or can be managed by an app, and a whopping 50 hours of battery life (I have not tested this). They also support Bluetooth 5.3. If someone wants to communicate with you and you want to listen, they have a sound passthrough button.

The large 40mm drivers in these headphones allow for good lows, and to my ears, the sound range was excellent with a wide variety. The Soundcore by Anker Space Q45 headphones, which are this week’s product of the week, may be the best option for individuals who seek an over-the-ear, reasonably priced noise-cancelling solution they can use while sleeping.

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