Apple has hired two top Google satellite executives for a new hardware team that it is creating, Bloomberg reports. Citing people familiar with the matter, the report notes that Apple has recently hired John Fenwick former lead of Google’s spacecraft operations, and Michael Trela, who headed up satellite engineering at Google. Both now allegedly report to Greg Duffy, the Dropcam cofounder who joined Apple in January. Speculation on Duffy’s hire earlier this year suggested that he was “likely to be leading a special project at Apple that is operating like a startup within the company” but no further details were available at the time as to what such a project would be; the two most recent hires, however, suggest that Apple is pursuing another entirely new line of research and development.
Fenwick and Trela are leading experts in the demanding and expensive field of satellite design and operation, generally representing work in the areas of image collection and communications. Bloomberg notes a regulatory filing last year where Boeing outlined a plan to provide broadband access through over 1,000 satellites in low-earth orbit, and according to a person familiar with the situation, the aerospace company has allegedly spoken with Apple about being involved in that project, but it’s unclear if that’s directly related to this new special project, or even if those talks will result in any kind of a deal. However, according to a blog post by satellite and telecom consultant Tim Farrar, industry insiders at the annual Satellite 2017 conference recently reported that Boeing’s project was in fact being funded by Apple.
Unlike Google, Apple has traditionally shown little interest in becoming a telecommunications provider of any kind, however Farrar and other consultants in the satellite industry have suggested that Apple may be looking to make a mark in an entirely new area of satellite internet, which is expected to each $30 billion in revenue by 2025. Companies such as Boeing are exploring solutions to provide lower latency and faster speeds at lower costs than existing cellular systems, which could revolutionize wireless communications. However, as Farrar points out, there’s still no guarantee that Apple will be involved int he Boeing project, as it remains a high risk industry “littered with bankruptcies and other failures.” It seems equally likely that Apple may have hired the new executives for their expertise in unrelated areas, such as imaging capture systems for its mapping platforms. Despite Fenwick and Trela’s background, they’re reporting to a lead who has consumer product and imaging experience, suggesting that their expertise may have been brought on board for less far-reaching plans. As a whole, the new hardware team led by Duffy still reports to Dan Riccio, Apple’s SVP of Hardware Engineering, the department traditionally focused on developing the iPhone, iPad, and Mac hardware, as well as Apple’s augmented reality efforts.