Bloomberg cited sources familiar with Apple plans that the iPhone maker has a "top secret" team that is developing satellite technology that could allow Apple's mobile devices to communicate with each other without, among other things relying on wireless connections such as Verizon, Deutsche Telekom or China Mobile.
According to the report, Apple CEO Tim Cook is a high priority and the team consists of "about a dozen" engineers from industries such as aerospace and satellite design. Although the long-term outcome of the work has not yet been fully clarified, iPhones can communicate directly with one another without using cellular networks or improve location services and other important functions of the devices.
Former Google satellite and aerospace engineers Michael Trela and John Fenwick lead the team, Bloomberg sources said. They left Google in 2017 to join Apple. They report to Apple's iPhone development manager. The company also hired well-known radio engineer Matt Ettus and founded executives Ashley Moore Williams (Aerospace Corp.) and Daniel Ellis (Netflix).
While it is uncertain that the final outcome of this project will be network operator freedom, it is not surprising that Apple would at least explore this possibility. It has struggled with and against carriers throughout the history of the iPhone, and Apple's philosophy of integrating all aspects of a product consistently is well known. It is also rumored that the company is developing silicon, which would replace Intel CPUs in its Mac products, for example, and is trying to develop its own cellular modems for future iPhones.
Apple is not the only technology company investigating satellite launch. Amazon plans to launch thousands in the near future, and other technology companies have tried to build satellite-based networks (though many have failed).
Bloomberg's sources did not clarify whether Apple plans to build and deploy these satellites itself, or instead plans to work with an established player in the field.