Apple’s iPhone 14 lineup, released in late 2020, introduced a groundbreaking feature called Emergency SOS via Satellite. It allows consumers to reach emergency services worldwide by sending text messages via satellite in areas without traditional cellular or Wi-Fi networks. Apple partnered with Globalstar to deploy its satellite infrastructure, with Apple covering 95% of the costs.
Initial reports suggested that Apple’s satellite connectivity would use 5G band 53, but this turned out to be a misunderstanding. The Emergency SOS via Satellite feature actually operates on the L band and S band frequencies used by most other satellite communications.
Qualcomm, not to be outdone, announced its own plans to enhance satellite connectivity for Android smartphones. At the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show, Qualcomm unveiled its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip with “Snapdragon Satellite” capabilities, in collaboration with the established satellite constellation provider, Iridium. This partnership meant that Android phones would also have access to satellite messaging services.
However, when Samsung’s Galaxy S23 lineup was released without the Snapdragon Satellite feature, people began questioning the progress of Qualcomm’s initiative. Eventually, Qualcomm confirmed that Snapdragon Satellite had been discontinued due to lack of interest and willingness from smartphone manufacturers to integrate the feature into their devices. The high costs involved and the preference for standards-based solutions were likely factors in this decision.
Meanwhile, Apple continues to invest in its satellite network. The company has spent nearly $500 million on launching its own satellites and is currently providing two years of free Emergency SOS via Satellite service to iPhone 14 and 15 owners. The future pricing for these services after the initial two-year period is unknown.
Apple’s satellite features primarily focus on emergency situations but also include the ability to report Find My location when there is no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage. Apple may eventually find a way to monetize these satellite services, leveraging its iMessage network and weather services acquired through the Dark Sky acquisition.
While Apple’s approach has been centered around emergency services, other satellite services like Garmin’s inReach devices offer additional features such as everyday text messaging and weather reports. However, these services come at a cost, with monthly subscriptions starting at $15.
As Apple continues to expand its satellite constellation, it is expected that the company will develop value-added services that can be monetized. For now, the focus remains on providing critical emergency support to users around the world.