A partnership signed between the Qualcomm giant and Iridium could bring satellite connectivity to many more Android phones.
At first, satellite connectivity will be reserved for premium Android phones and, with some limitations, for certain mid-range models. Thus, on flagship models based on Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 we will be able to send and receive SMS messages via satellite if the connection to terrestrial mobile networks is not available. At the basic level, functionality will be limited to alerting emergency services and exchanging text messages with their operators.
Although Qualcomm chipsets are found in millions of Android phones, satellite connectivity was first announced by rival Apple as an exclusive for iPhone 14 owners. Meanwhile, Google, Samsung and Huawei have announced their own implementations of the service, added to selected models of Android phones.
But from its role as a major chipset supplier, Qualcomm could bring satellite connectivity within reach of millions of users, whatever their preferred brand of phone.
As for Iridium, it is the oldest provider of satellite phone services, active since 1997. Unlike newer alternatives such as Starlink, Iridium’s network relies on just 75 satellites, but with much greater individual capacity than SpaceX’s micro-satellites. Refurbished in 2019 with state-of-the-art technology, they can take more simultaneous phone calls and deliver faster internet connections, but at costs that are generally too high for ordinary consumers. The advantage is that the network of satellites placed in relatively high orbit, about 780km above the Earth, offers greater coverage and less signal fluctuation than the Starlink network.
Qualcomm says the functionality called Snapdragon Sattelite will only be built into premium chipsets, but will be available from smartphones, tablets, laptops and even some car models. Most importantly, the service will not be restricted to calling emergency services, although, it is possible that access will be for a fee, with only an initial period of free access (e.g. one or two years of access for newly purchased devices).
Unfortunately, the availability of the Snapdragon Sattelite service will be decided at the country level, with some governments possibly objecting to the ‘immunity’ of this type of connection to the usual interception and censorship mechanisms.