Report: Apple Has 'Secret Team' Working on Satellites to Beam Data Directly to iPhones

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Apple has a dedicated research team looking into new ways to beam data like internet connectivity directly to iPhones and other devices, reports Bloomberg‘s Mark Gurman.

The Cupertino, California-based iPhone maker has about a dozen engineers from the aerospace, satellite and antenna design industries working on the project with the goal of deploying their results within five years, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal company efforts. Work on the project is still early and could be abandoned, the people said, and a clear direction and use for satellites hasn’t been finalized.

According to the report, Apple’s main aim is to beam data to a user’s ‌iPhone‌, potentially reducing the dependence on wireless carriers, or for linking devices together without a traditional network, thereby mitigating coverage issues. Apple could also be exploring satellites for more precise location tracking for its devices, enabling improved maps and new features.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has reportedly made the project a company priority, and Apple is said to be ramping up hiring, with new software and hardware experts being added to the team. The company has also hired additional executives from the aerospace and wireless data delivery fields, and is seeking engineers with experience in designing components for communications equipment. Apple is said to be hoping for the initiative to produce results within five years.

Back in 2017, Bloomberg reported that Apple had hired John Fenwick and Michael Trela, two Google executives who led the search giant’s satellite and spacecraft operations. At the time, what the two would be doing at Apple was unclear, but Bloomberg now reports that Fenwick and Trela are leading the team dedicated to satellites and related wireless technology.

According to the report, the team has recently added people from the wireless industry, including engineer Matt Ettus, one of the foremost names in wireless technologies; Ashley Moore Williams, a longtime executive from Aerospace who focused on communication satellites; and Daniel Ellis, a former Netflix executive who helped oversee the company’s Content Delivery Network. Ellis is said to have experience in building networks that can beam content and information on a global scale.

What remains unclear is whether Apple plans to develop its own satellite systems or make use of ground-based technology that could receive data from existing satellites and send it to mobile devices. Efforts by the likes of Facebook and Amazon to deploy satellites are a long way from becoming reality, but Apple could potentially look to existing satellite makers like Lockheed Martin or Boeing to provide the necessary hardware in the sky.

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