Moves towards enabling satellite connectivity for smartphones have taken a knock with the cancellation of an agreement between chipmaker Qualcomm and satellite operator Iridium. The deal between Qualcomm and Iridium, disclosed at the CES trade show in January, was to enable satellite messaging and emergency services in Android smartphones powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset using Iridium’s satellite network.
According to Iridium, the companies developed and demonstrated the technology, but it appears that smartphone makers have not implemented the feature in their Snapdragon-based devices. Iridium said Qualcomm therefore notified it on November 3 of the decision to terminate things, effective December 3. Iridium noted, however, that following the termination it will be free to engage with other companies in the smartphone sector that might be interested in this capability, and said it will be pursuing new relationships with device OEMs, chipmakers, and developers.
Snapdragon Satellite had been intended to provide global connectivity for handsets based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, which had built-in support for the Iridium satellite network’s L-band spectrum.
Rivals, as well as other new entrants, will now look to pick up the pieces following this setback for the Android community. However, other companies are still planning to offer satellite connectivity for smartphones. Apple introduced an Emergency SOS feature in the iPhone 14 that can use a satellite for emergency calls if no cellular service is available. SpaceX has also advertised a Direct to Cell satellite phone service, while Vodafone has made the world’s first space-based 5G call with an unmodified handset.
Qualcomm has also been working with Ericsson and Thales on technology that could deliver a 5G telecommunications service from low Earth orbit satellites. The industry direction is clear towards increased satellite connectivity in consumer devices, and despite this setback, Iridium remains well-suited to be a key player in this emerging market.