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Apple's Next iPhone Will Reportedly Be Able to Connect to Satellites, Can Tesla's Vehicles Do the Same?

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【Summary】​The next-generation iPhone will reportedly feature low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communication connectivity to allow users to make calls or receive and send messages in areas of poor 4G or 5G coverage. While incorporating satellite communications technology might be great for iPhones users, what if Tesla vehicles can do the same? It’s already happening in China.

Eric Walz    Aug 30, 2021 1:50 PM PT
Apple's Next iPhone Will Reportedly Be Able to Connect to Satellites, Can Tesla's Vehicles Do the Same?
The SpaceX Starlink satellite network could one day be used by Tesla.

The next-generation iPhone will reportedly feature low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communication connectivity to allow users to make calls or receive and send messages in areas of poor 4G or 5G coverage, according to Ming-Chi Kuo, a well known Apple analyst at TF International Securities.

While incorporating satellite communications technology in a smartphone might be great for iPhones users, what if Tesla vehicles can do the same and communicate with satellites? It's already happening in China.

In Feburary, Chinese automaker Geely was granted approval to launch a network of LEO satellites that it said would support Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications for self-driving.

Geely said that using low-orbit satellites would provide its vehicles with high speed internet connectivity, highly precise navigation and cloud computing capabilities for automated driving. Geely also says the satellites will be instrumental in improving a range of mobility services and V2X communications. So the automaker invested 2.27 billion yuan ($326 million) to build a satellite manufacturing plant.

In February, Geely was granted a license to begin commercial production of the satellites at its new factory. To start, the facility will produce over 500 satellites per year. Production is scheduled to begin in October.

Can Tesla Use the Starlink Network for its Cars?

Last year, we wrote about the possibility of Tesla vehicles using the SpaceX Starlink satellite network as a secure cloud to support autonomous driving and other V2X and V2I technologies. Suppose satellite receivers can be added to Tesla vehicles, so they can connect directly to the Starlink network. 

Connected vehicles today communicate using 4G and soon 5G communications technology. But in the future, satellite networks like Starlink may prove to be more reliable. 

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 and currently serves as the company's CEO and CTO. It was the first privately owned aerospace company to send astronauts into orbit, as well as to the International Space Station.

SpaceX intends to create a "global communications system" with Starlink that Musk compared to in the past as "rebuilding the internet in space." The data transfer speeds would be much faster than traditional internet connections. Starlink will deliver high speed broadband internet to locations around the world where access has been unreliable, too expensive, or non-existent.

The satellite network continues to grow. Starlink plans to launch another 1,300 satellites over the next six months, according to a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The Starlink network will eventually consist of thousands of small satellites that work in combination with ground transceivers to support high-speed broadband internet around the world. According to a filing with the FCC in 2018, the system proposed by privately held SpaceX will use 4,425 satellites. 

In 2020, Musk claimed that Tesla is close to achieving Level-5 autonomous driving. However, these highly advanced self-driving Tesla vehicles will need to be connected to the cloud, transferring terabytes of data between a ground-based fleet and powerful AI-powered processors that support autonomous driving. 

This advanced AI-powered technology requires a low-latency, ultra-fast connection, which is something that the SpaceX Starlink satellite network might provide. And since the network will be owned, controlled and operated entirely by SpaceX, the connection to the cloud and Tesla's vehicles can be monitored end-to-end with the highest levels of security.

Starlink's LEO satellites are over 60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites, resulting in lower latency and the ability to support services typically not possible with traditional satellite internet, according to SpaceX.

Another possible use of the Starlink network is pushing over-the-air (OTA) software updates to Tesla's fleet. Instead of updating its vehicle software using cellular networks, Tesla could push updates to its entire global fleet via Starlink.

In addition, Since it's a global space-based network, Starlink will be free of the limitations of ground-based systems, which makes it ideal for supporting critical safety systems, such as those used for autonomous driving.

Musk is a visionary and one of the world's richest individuals. Although he has not said anything publicly about the possibility of Tesla using the Starlink network in the future, it won't be surprising if he finds alternative uses for it when millions of electric, connected and autonomous vehicles will be on the road.

Musk also said that the Starlink satellite network may help fund a future city on Mars. 

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