Qualcomm’s Satellite Connectivity Plan for Android Phones Faces a Setback

Qualcomm, the leading chipmaker for Android smartphones, had announced a partnership with Iridium, a satellite communications company, to bring satellite connectivity to its devices. The feature, called Snapdragon Satellite, was supposed to launch in the second half of 2023, but the deal has been terminated due to lack of adoption by smartphone manufacturers.

Snapdragon Satellite was a two-way satellite-based messaging solution that would allow Android phones powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform to use Iridium’s satellites for calls and texting in areas without a cell signal. The service would offer pole-to-pole coverage and was expected to be available in North America and Europe initially. Qualcomm said that phones could start coming out with the functionality in the second half of 2023, though manufacturers would have to implement it in their handsets.

Qualcomm’s Satellite Connectivity Plan for Android Phones Faces a Setback
Qualcomm’s Satellite Connectivity Plan for Android Phones Faces a Setback

Qualcomm demonstrated Snapdragon Satellite at CES 2023 in January, showing how users could send and receive messages using satellite connectivity. The feature was seen as a potential competitor to Apple’s Emergency SOS, which debuted on the iPhone 14 series in October 2022. Emergency SOS allows iPhone users to send an SOS message to a designated contact or emergency services in supported regions, even when there is no cell signal on the phone. However, Emergency SOS is a one-way communication feature, while Snapdragon Satellite promised to provide two-way messaging.

Why Qualcomm and Iridium Ended Their Partnership

Despite the technical success of Snapdragon Satellite, smartphone manufacturers did not include the technology in their devices, which led Qualcomm to end its agreement with Iridium. According to Iridium’s press release on Thursday, Qualcomm has shifted its focus to a standards-based solution, rather than the proprietary solution that was introduced earlier this year.

Iridium CEO Matt Desch said in the press release, “While I’m disappointed that this partnership didn’t bear immediate fruit, we believe the direction of the industry is clear toward increased satellite connectivity in consumer devices. Our global coverage and regulatory certainty make us well suited to be a key player in this emerging market. User experience will be critical to their success, and we’ve proven that we can provide a reliable, global capability to mobile users.”

Qualcomm provided a statement to CNBC that cited smartphone manufacturers’ preference for standards-based connectivity options, rather than the chip-based Snapdragon Satellite proprietary solution. The company said that it will continue to collaborate with Iridium on standards-based solutions while discontinuing efforts on the proprietary solution. Qualcomm also said that it supports non-terrestrial network (aka satellite) solutions using the industrial-focused mobile modems it launched in July that link up to the Skylo network of satellites.

What Does This Mean for Android Users?

The termination of the Qualcomm-Iridium partnership means that Android users will have to wait longer to see satellite connectivity features on their phones. It is unclear when Qualcomm will launch its standards-based solution, or which smartphone manufacturers will adopt it. Iridium, on the other hand, said that it will continue to pursue partnerships with phone manufacturers and mobile industry players for existing and future service plans of satellite connectivity.

This leaves the room open for seeing satellite connectivity features on Android in 2024 or later. We hope that Qualcomm and Iridium will be able to deliver on their promises and bring this innovative technology to Android users in the near future.

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