Bullitt Group and MediaTek collaborate to launch the first smartphone that can send text messages via satellite

Emerging as an inevitable response to Apple and Samsung’s initiative to offer the ability to alert emergency services using satellite-retrieved text messages, Bullitt Group and MediaTek are coming to offer this functionality for SMS messages sent to friends and family.

For example, in addition to alerting emergency services of an immediate safety/health hazard, you’ll also be able to use satellite connectivity to let friends or family know that you are/are not safe, even when you’re in an area without coverage on any land-based mobile phone networks. However, you’ll need as unobstructed a view of the sky as possible, ideally under clear skies.

Unlike the SOS via Satellite function, Bullit’s proposed system also allows interconnection from the satellite to a conventional mobile phone network, so that messages picked up from mobile phones can be relayed as quickly as possible, without crowding the limited resources available on the satellite communications infrastructure.

Bullitt and MediaTek have been working together for the past 18 months to enable the next generation of Bullitt-designed 5G smartphones to be equipped with direct satellite communications technology. Bullitt is the first to use MediaTek’s 3GPP NTN (Non-Terrestrial Network) chipset. Proprietary software and service components have also been developed in parallel to deliver the OTT satellite messaging service.

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The device software is intelligent and switches to the satellite link only when no cellular or Wi-Fi connection is available. The service integrates with the user’s existing contacts. The time to initially connect to the satellite and send a message is approximately 10 seconds.

Richard Wharton, co-founder of Bullitt Group, explained, “Bullitt designs and manufactures mobile phones under licenses from Cat (Caterpillar Inc) and Motorola. Over 13 years we have developed a deep understanding of our customers who, due to the nature of their lifestyle or work, are often outdoors and frequently in areas with poor cellular coverage. Globally, mobile phone users lose signal for tens of billions of hours each year. Signal loss is something we’ve all experienced at some point. Depending on the situation, it can mean inconvenience, frustration, anxiety, loss of productivity or even loss of life.”

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“We’ve known for a long time that satellite was the answer, but an “invisible” and seamless integration into a smartphone creates enormous technical challenges. MediaTek and Bullitt share a pioneering spirit and a history of innovation, so now, nearly two years into our relationship, we are together at the forefront of a new era in telecommunications and the fastest and easiest way for our partners to deliver worry-free experiences to their customers.”

According to Bullitt, the first phones with two-way satellite service (and the satellite service itself) will be available in the first three months of 2023. They’ll come with a free year of emergency messaging. The rate charged thereafter is not known at this time.

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