Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Satellite project, which was unveiled at CES 2023, aimed to enable phones with Snapdragon chips to connect with satellites in areas without a cell signal. However, Qualcomm’s partnership with satellite network company Iridium has ended, leaving the future of Snapdragon Satellite uncertain.
Apple was the first to introduce phone-to-satellite communications on a large scale with Emergency SOS, which debuted on the iPhone 14 series in October 2022. Following this, Qualcomm introduced Snapdragon Satellite as a way for Android phones to use Iridium’s satellites for calls and texting beyond the range of a cell signal.
Despite a successful demonstration at CES, no phones have been launched with Snapdragon Satellite functionality, leading to Qualcomm’s decision to terminate its deal with Iridium. Iridium expressed disappointment in a press release but stated its intent to pursue partnerships with other phone manufacturers and industry players for satellite connectivity.
Qualcomm acknowledged the preference of smartphone manufacturers for standards-based connectivity options over the Snapdragon Satellite proprietary solution. The company stated that it will discontinue efforts on the proprietary solution while continuing to work on satellite connectivity using non-terrestrial network mobile modems.
At Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit, the focus was primarily on new chips for on-device generative AI rather than Snapdragon Satellite. The company emphasized that the responsibility now lies with device manufacturers to adopt Snapdragon Satellite.
This setback for satellite connectivity comes at a time when all major carriers in the US have announced their own satellite phone solutions but have not made significant progress. T-Mobile partnered with SpaceX’s Starlink, while AT&T aligned with AST SpaceMobile. However, there have been no updates on these initiatives.
Currently, Apple’s iPhones are the only handsets in the US that offer satellite connectivity. Users have reported using Emergency SOS to seek help in emergencies such as canyoning accidents and wildfires. The future of Snapdragon Satellite remains uncertain, and Qualcomm has not provided specific details on its plans for 2024.