One of the major new features in the iPhone 14 was “Emergency SOS via Satellite.” During normal use, smartphones struggle to connect to something far away like a satellite, but it is possible to send small bits of data under ideal conditions with the help of a targeting app. Apple turned this into a way to send a message to emergency services even when off the grid, and the Android ecosystem immediately started copying the feature. Qualcomm’s “Snapdragon Satellite” was announced in January 2023, and now, ten months later and without any customers, the plan has stalled.
Qualcomm’s satellite partner for the project, Iridium, Announce The partnership was dissolved in a press release, though Qualcomm says it still wants to work with Iridium on future projects. Iridium wrote:
Iridium previously announced that it has entered into agreements with Qualcomm to enable satellite messaging and emergency services in smartphones powered by Snapdragon Mobile Platforms using Iridium’s satellite network. Companies have successfully developed and demonstrated technology; However, despite this technical success, smartphone manufacturers have not included this technology in their devices. Because of this, on November 3, 2023Qualcomm has notified Iridium that it has elected to terminate the agreements, effective as of that date December 3, 2023.
Essentially, the project is dying because Qualcomm couldn’t get a single Android manufacturer to add satellite messaging to the phone. Qualcomm’s satellite solution didn’t require a lot of new hardware, so the rejection was apparently due to Qualcomm’s design of the feature and (presumably) any additional fees it was adding to the bill of materials. In a statement submitted to CNBCQualcomm says smartphone makers have “indicated their preference for standards-based solutions” for phone satellite connectivity, a plan the company now wants to focus on.
Since Snapdragon Satellite was never released, it’s hard to say exactly what the difference is between a “standards-based” platform and Snapdragon Satellite, but we can take some guesses. Qualcomm and Iridium’s solution used the proprietary Iridium protocol, just like many satellite phones with a large antenna. The alternative will be the 3GPP “5G NTN” (Non-Terrestrial Networking) standard used by devices like the Motorola Satellite Link (this device has a MediaTek chip and connects to Inmarsat satellites). Qualcomm’s January press release promised eventual support for this, saying: “Snapdragon Satellite is planned to support 5G non-terrestrial networks (NTN), as NTN satellite and constellation infrastructure becomes available.” Qualcomm already has a few 5G NTN projects Going.
The original press release made the project sound like standards-compliant two-way SMS, saying: “Snapdragon Satellite provides true global pole-to-pole coverage and can support two-way messaging for emergency use, SMS, and other messaging applications.” Qualcomm showed images of a Qualcomm-branded messaging app, with its own address book, message list, and targeting system, which was certainly out of the ordinary. Typically, Android manufacturers want to rebrand and take credit for initial Qualcomm and Google features.
The competing Motorola Satellite Link does just that no Sending SMS requires the sender and receiver to use a special application. No one’s quite sure how billing will work with Qualcomm’s solution, but Motorola’s hotspot requires another monthly subscription, ranging from $5 to $30 per month, or $60 per year.
Speaking of Google, the Android team is also working on building satellite APIs into Android’s telephony stack. The project was originally announced for Android 14 but He didn’t make the final cut. It may come in a quarterly release, although it doesn’t seem too far away at the moment. Whatever solution Qualcomm ultimately comes up with, Apple’s deep envy of the Android ecosystem should keep the business going.
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