The company has hired satellite and antenna designers, as well as aerospace engineers. The project is in its very early stages, and it’s not guaranteed to move forward, but it does show that Apple is considering a game-changing move to potentially eschew its reliance on third-party networks to run its phones.
The team might not even be building its own equipment; it could just be developing objects to transmit data, or even just to take advantage of already existing orbital communications hardware. It could also potentially be that the new technology developed will be used to provide better location or map services.
Apple has hired executives from Skybox Imaging, Michael Trela and John Fenwick, to lead the team. Those two used to work for Google’s spacecraft and satellite division. They also hired Ashley Moore Williams, a former Aerospace Corporation executive.
The majority of satellites in space used for communication require a ground station to relay data to devices, but there is a company called Lynk that is trying to build a number of satellites that can talk to phones directly.
According to Bloomberg, Apple is hoping to see results within the next five years. Many have tried to develop the technology and failed, and Apple doesn’t usually delve into industries where it doesn’t think it can make money.
“The lessons of prior failures like Iridium, Globalstar and Teledesic are that it’s really hard to find a viable business plan for multibillion-dollar satellite communications projects,” said satellite expert Tim Farrar.
During the tenure of Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple has greatly grown its budget for research and development, increasing it 14 percent from 2018 and spending $16 billion in 2019.