Connectivity

Some Android phones will join the satellite connectivity party

The move is the latest in a string of recent announcements from companies looking to move into the suddenly hot satellite direct-to-device industry.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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Last year, the satellite-to-phone market saw a number of new projects, but perhaps none splashier than Apple’s $450 million linkup with Globalstar.

Now, some Android phones are set to join the satellite connectivity party.

Last week, Qualcomm announced a partnership with satellite communications company Iridium Communications to provide a satellite-based messaging service to certain smartphones running the Android operating system.

The move is the latest in a string of recent announcements from companies looking to move into the suddenly hot satellite direct-to-device industry, which space industry research firm Northern Sky Research recently described as the “largest opportunity in Satcom’s history.” It projects that satellite direct-to-device subscribers could grow from basically zero in 2022 to nearly 400 million monthly users by 2030.

Qualcomm’s new service, called Snapdragon Satellite, will be available in select markets in the second half of 2023 on devices with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform and will enable two-way communication between devices. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 will be on phones from at least 17 manufacturers.

Unlike Apple’s satellite service, which was announced last September, Iridium’s Snapdragon Satellite will enable more than texts to emergency services. Users will be able to send text messages to whoever they want, whether it’s friends or emergency services.

Snapdragon Satellite will initially target smartphones, but both companies have said they are thinking about expanding coverage to other devices, like laptops, tablets, vehicles, and IoT devices.

Iridium’s constellation of 66 satellites will allow users to send texts or call emergency services from almost anywhere in the world, while Apple’s service is currently only available for iPhone 14 users in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, and Ireland.

Big picture: The partnership comes after a year in which the satellite connectivity market was "validated" to some degree, as one expert told us in December, with major companies announcing space-related plans left and right.

Beyond Apple, T-Mobile announced its own partnership with SpaceX last August, which it touted as a plan to “to provide near-complete coverage in most places in the US.” AT&T is also partnering with AST SpaceMobile for satellite coverage in the US.

“Until a year ago, there were only two companies pursuing the dream [of satellite direct-to-device]: Lynk and AST SpaceMobile,” Chris Quilty, founder of space research firm Quilty Analytics told us last month in an email. “But we’ve recently had a flood of companies enter the fray, including SpaceX and T-Mobile and Apple and Globalstar.”

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