Setback for Qualcomm as Phone-to-Satellite Connectivity Efforts Stall
Qualcomm, a leading mobile technology company, has faced a setback in its efforts to bring phone-to-satellite connectivity to Android devices. The company had unveiled Snapdragon Satellite, a solution that would enable Android phones to utilize Iridium’s satellites for calls and texting beyond the range of cellular signals. However, despite demonstrating the technology at CES, Qualcomm has announced the end of its partnership with Iridium, as no phones have been launched with Snapdragon Satellite.
This development comes after Apple successfully deployed large-scale phone-to-satellite communications with Emergency SOS on its iPhone 14 series. Qualcomm had hoped to follow suit by offering a paid service for Android phones to access satellite connectivity. While Qualcomm stated that phones could start incorporating this functionality in the second half of 2023, no manufacturers implemented it in their handsets.
Iridium, the satellite communications company, expressed disappointment but remains committed to pursuing partnerships with phone manufacturers and mobile industry players for existing and future service plans related to satellite connectivity. Iridium CEO Matt Desch emphasized the importance of user experience and the potential for increased satellite connectivity in consumer devices.
Qualcomm, on the other hand, cited smartphone manufacturers’ preference for standards-based connectivity options instead of its proprietary Snapdragon Satellite solution. The company stated that it would continue to collaborate with Iridium on standards-based solutions while discontinuing its efforts on the Snapdragon Satellite proprietary solution for now. Qualcomm reaffirmed its dedication to exploring satellite connectivity in devices, particularly through non-terrestrial network solutions utilizing its mobile modems.
The lack of progress in satellite connectivity for consumer devices has become evident in recent developments. Although all three major US carriers announced their own satellite phone solutions, none has moved beyond tech demonstrations. T-Mobile partnered with SpaceX’s Starlink, while AT&T linked up with AST SpaceMobile. However, the deployment of these services has faced challenges, including concerns over spectrum encroachment and delays in expanding coverage.
Currently, Apple’s iPhones are the only handsets in the US with satellite connectivity, thanks to the Emergency SOS feature. Users have shared stories of relying on this functionality during emergencies, such as escaping wildfires or getting help after accidents. Nonetheless, the vision of widespread satellite connectivity for mobile devices remains unrealized.
As the industry moves forward, it is clear that satellite connectivity holds immense potential, but challenges such as compatibility, user experience, and service deployment need to be addressed. Both Qualcomm and other industry players will continue their efforts to bring this technology to consumers, ensuring reliable and global connectivity for mobile users.