Qualcomm announced a new feature called Snapdragon Satellite at CES 2023, which allows mobile phones to connect to a satellite and send messages in an emergency. This is similar to the feature introduced by Apple in the iPhone 14, but Qualcomm aims to take it further and not limit its use to just emergency communications.
The Snapdragon Satellite feature will be available on Android phones with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor and the X70 modem, which handles 5G, location, and satellite connections. It is not yet known which smartphones will be the first to have this feature, but Qualcomm has said they will be available in the second half of 2023. Google also confirmed that Android 14 would support satellite connectivity.
The Snapdragon Satellite feature will operate through the Iridium satellite network, which has been operating since the 1990s and serves satellite phones, messengers, and tracking devices. Qualcomm will have an advantage over Apple, as it can use an already established and developed infrastructure to quickly achieve a global rollout. On the other hand, Apple has chosen to work with Globalstar and given it $450 million to develop and deploy new satellites in return for 85% of its current and future satellite network.
When a person gets lost or has an incident in a place without WiFi or mobile signal, they can activate the Snapdragon Satellite feature to find a satellite and send an emergency message. The feature will show instructions on the mobile screen to detect the nearest satellite, and Qualcomm claims that it will not always be necessary to point the smartphone at the sky to establish the connection. The company says that the phone will be able to predict the route of the Iridium satellites months in advance, which will make the process easier.
Initially, the Snapdragon Satellite feature will only allow users to send messages in emergencies, but Qualcomm plans to expand the service to function as a regular communication platform, allowing users to send and receive text messages at any time and place without worrying about lack of cell coverage.
However, it remains to be seen how this will be implemented and the cost of satellite connectivity for regular messaging. Qualcomm has said that using the Snapdragon Satellite feature for emergencies will be free or very cheap, but it is unclear what the cost will be for regular messaging.
It is worth noting that satellite-based connectivity is not a new concept, as satellite phones have been around for decades. However, the ability to use a regular smartphone to connect to a satellite and send messages in an emergency or for regular communication is a significant advancement. This technology could be especially useful in remote or hard-to-reach areas where cell coverage is limited or non-existent. It could also be beneficial in disaster situations where traditional communication networks are down or overloaded.
The competition between Qualcomm and Apple in this area will be interesting to watch, as Apple has already patented a function allowing calls and web browsing through its satellite connection.