Apple is Working on a Secret Project on Satellite Technology

The iPhone maker, Apple Inc., is speeding more on its hiring process, wishing for the initiative to foster results within five years.

According to the people acquainted with the work, Apple Inc., has a ‘covert’ team working on satellite technology that the iPhone maker could use to beam the Internet services directly to devices, bypassing wireless networks.

Five-year Deadline

As per a report from Bloomberg, the Cupertino, the California-based iPhone maker has acquired a dozen of engineers from the aerospace, satellite, and antenna design industries to work on the project, with the goal of deploying results within five years. The project is still in its ‘nascent stage’ and could be stopped. The report also suggested a clear direction and use for the satellites that haven’t been finalized yet. Still, Apple Chief Executive Officer, Tim Cook, has shown interest in the project, inferring to it as a company priority.

The aim and vision of the project, which incorporates communications satellites and next-generation wireless technology, is to mitigate the dependence on wireless carriers and traditional networks. Apple wants to beam the data to the user’s device directly via these satellites. The iPhone maker could also be searching for satellites to provide precise location tracking for its devices, enabling improved maps and new features.

It’s not evident whether Apple wishes to pursue the costly development of a satellite constellation itself or simply use on-the-ground equipment that would fetch data from existing satellites and send it to mobile devices. The company could go for the latter option by collaborating with companies such as Northrop Grumman Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing Co., which are some of the biggest satellite makers.

Will Apple Learn from Others’ Failures?

The industry is full of failures. Iridium LLC filed for bankruptcy protection in 1999, while Teledesic abandoned its ‘internet from the sky’ plan more than a decade ago. However, fresh efforts from Facebook, SpaceX, and Amazon are far away from generating revenue, and Apple has just entered the field without a clear way to make money. For instance, Inc. plans to deploy more than 3,000 satellites as a part of a future constellation.

“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 Tim Farrar, a satellite expert, and principal at TMF associates.

In the past few months, Apple hired new software and hardware experts for the team, seeking engineers with experience in designing components for communications equipment. The company has also hired additional executives from the aerospace and wireless data delivery fields.

Michael Trela and John Fenwick are leading the team. They initially helped lead the satellite imaging company, Skybox Imaging, before it was acquired by Google in 2014. The pair led Google’s satellite and spacecraft operations until leaving the company together in 2017 to begin a new initiative at Apple, Bloomberg News reported at the time.

Cook seems to be a visionary because, under him, Apple has rapidly stretched its research and development budget. According to the company filings, it spent $16 billion in the 2019 fiscal year, which is an increase of 14% from the prior year. One of Apple’s primary goals is to introduce more technology to support its in house products, which explains the idea behind the upcoming project.

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