A new partnership between satellite phone company Iridium and chip giant Qualcomm will soon enable premium Android smartphones to have satellite connectivity. This means that even in areas with no mobile coverage, these smartphones will be able to connect with passing satellites to send and receive messages.
Qualcomm’s chips are commonly found in many Android-powered smartphones, and now they will incorporate a feature called Snapdragon Satellite, giving users access to satellite connectivity. While initially only available for emergency text messaging, it is expected that this service will eventually expand to include broader communication capabilities.
British smartphone maker Bullitt was the first to introduce its own satellite service, beating Apple to the punch. However, the partnership between Iridium and Qualcomm opens the door for millions more smartphone users to access satellite connectivity, regardless of the brand of their device. Manufacturers will have the responsibility of enabling this feature in their devices.
Iridium, which launched its first satellite in 1997, operates a network of 75 spacecraft that cover the entire globe. These satellites fly in low orbit around 485 miles (780km) above the Earth and are capable of inter-satellite communication, passing data between them.
Satellite connectivity has been regarded as the next frontier for mobile phones, especially in areas with poor or no existing coverage. This technology has already been successfully implemented for broadband coverage by services such as Elon Musk’s Starlink. Although satellite connectivity offers fast and reliable broadband, it tends to be more expensive than cable or fiber connections.
While Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Satellite feature will initially be incorporated into premium chips, it is expected to eventually expand to other devices such as tablets, laptops, and vehicles. However, the use of this feature will also depend on local government regulations, as some countries like India and China have banned the use of satellite phones.