Apple backs off its iPhone walkie-talkie project, report says

Apple iPhone
Apple iPhones would have used 900 Mhz spectrum to send text messages under Project OGRS, now shelved (Pixabay)

Apple has suspended its walkie-talkie concept that would have allowed iPhones to share texts over radio waves without cellular networks, according to a report in The Information.

Code-named Project OGRS (for Off-Grid Radio Service) by Apple and Project Shrek by Intel, a partner on the project, the phones were being designed to run over 900-megahertz radio now used for dispatch radio communication in mainly the oil and gas industry.

Apple and Intel didn’t respond to a request for comment. Intel was to provide cellular modems inside future iPhones, according to the report, which cited two unnamed sources familiar with Apple’s move.

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Apple recently bought Intel’s cellular modem business for $1 billion, which allowed Apple to receive wireless patents and about 2,200 Intel employees that are thought to help Apple produce its own cellular modems in coming years.

Apple had filed patents for such device-to-device communications early in 2019, but Apple’s executive in charge of the project left Apple about the same time. That executive, Ruben Caballero, oversaw a department with hundreds of workers who were working on ways to build cellular modems for future iPhones.

As Reuters described it, Caballero lost out to Johny Srouji who took over the Apple modem team, while Caballero’s team was split up to other parts of the company.

A startup called goTenna makes a smartphone accessory called Mesh that allows phones to text with each other in non-cellular areas.

The Mesh accessories rely on a mesh network topology, linking together multiple devices for radio range instead of relying on a central node such as a cellular base station.

LTE Direct allows devices to communicate without a cellular network, and Qualcomm has developed technology along those lines that hasn’t been built into smartphones.

Apple already makes wireless chips for its AirPod earbuds. These W1 chips function over Bluetooth. Most recently, it has produced W2 and W3 chips for the Apple Watch to provide Wi-Fi. Apple also has research into satellite communications for wireless internet data, Bloomberg said in 2017.

RELATED: Apple plans iPhone Pro models for its September launch, report says

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