iPhone 14 Satellite Provider Objects to SpaceX’s Spectrum Grab

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When Apple unveiled the iPhone 14, it spent a few minutes talking up a partnership with Globalstar for satellite-based SOS functionality. The satellite operator is now claiming that SpaceX’s latest plans could jeopardize its ability to offer its services. Elon Musk’s aerospace powerhouse is asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for access to more spectrum bands for mobile Starlink service, and while it claims there are ways to mitigate interference, Globalstar isn’t buying it. 

SpaceX’s latest request is just the latest in a series of moves to secure spectrum access. In July, it asked for the option to transmit on the 2GHz band, which is licensed to Dish. In September, it amended that to add 1.6GHz and 2.4GHz, which is where Globalstar’s services operate. SpaceX wants to use 1.6GHz and 2GHz bands for uploads, while 2.4GHz will be reserved for downloads. The theoretical MSS (mobile satellite service) could provide connectivity to compatible phones even in areas where cell towers are nowhere to be seen. 

Globalstar is now asking the FCC to deny SpaceX’s request, casting doubt on claims that Starlink will be able to avoid interference. “Based on the scant data provided to date, SpaceX has not demonstrated that a successful coordination between Globalstar and SpaceX is possible or that harmful interference would not be expected from SpaceX’s operations to Globalstar’s MSS network,” Globalstar says in the filing

This request takes on greater urgency, says Globalstar, because it is now operating emergency services in partnership with Apple. The latest iPhones are still rolling out, but there will no doubt be millions of people carrying these devices within a few weeks. With both Dish and Globalstar arrayed against SpaceX, the regulatory situation could get messy. SpaceX isn’t likely to back down, and it offered a preview of its reasoning in the filing last week. “Globalstar has enjoyed exclusive access to portions of the 1.6/2.4 GHz bands, even though the Commission did not provide Globalstar with perpetual exclusive use of the bands,” the company noted. 

If any company has a shot at muscling its way into mobile satellite services, it’s SpaceX. Despite not having licenses in traditional mobile communication bands, it has the largest constellation of satellites in Earth orbit — numbering almost 3,000 as of this summer. The company’s tried and true Falcon 9 rocket is capable of adding 60 more satellites to the mix with every launch, and SpaceX has essentially perfected booster recovery to lower its launch costs. SpaceX is currently working toward a test launch of the Starship super-heavy lift vehicle that can deploy second-gen Starlink satellites, which are vital to the company’s mobile connectivity plans. A version of Starship has also been chosen by NASA for upcoming crewed lunar landings.

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