A new partnership between the satellite phone firm Iridium and chip giant Qualcomm will bring satellite connectivity to premium Android smartphones later this year. With this development, the Android smartphones will be able to connect to satellites to send and receive messages in places where there is no mobile/cellphone coverage.
The technology is already implemented on Apple’s iPhone 14 that was launched last year on Sep. 8th.
The new partnership will make the same service accessible to millions more Android smartphone, without limiting to a particular brand – but it will be down to the manufacturer to enable it.
Qualcomm said that at first the new feature, called Snapdragon Satellite, will only be incorporated into its premium chips so is unlikely to appear in budget devices. But it will eventually be rolled out to tablets, laptops and even vehicles, and also become a service that is not restricted to emergency communication – although there is likely to be a fee for this.
Iridium is the original satellite phone system, sending its first satellite in to orbit in 1997. It completed a refresh of its network of 75 spacecraft in 2019.
Satellite connectivity is broadly considered to be the next frontier for mobile phones because it tackles the problem of “not-spots” – areas where there is no existing coverage. These tend to be more common in rural or remote places.
Satellite broadband is fast and generally reliable, but more expensive than cable or fibre connections.
It has already been successfully deployed to provide broadband coverage by services such as Elon Musk’s Starlink.
Use of the feature will be subject to local government regulations, as countries including India and China ban the use of satellite phones.