Qualcomm enters sat-to-phone market with Iridium

Qualcomm Technologies has thrown its hat into the satellite-to-phone ring via a partnership with satellite provider Iridium and a new Snapdragon Satellite offering for premium Android smartphones.

Francisco Grilli, vice president, product management for Qualcomm, stated in a media briefing his company selected Iridium because its LEO satellites have been deployed for 25 years, and because the birds are able to provide pole-to-pole coverage even across oceans.

Snapdragon Satellite, announced at CES 2023, will be available on some high-end smartphones by mid-year with devices that are based on the vendor’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform, which includes the X70 modem system.

“There are 66 satellites in LEO orbit, and they cover pretty much the globe,” Grilli stated. “Unlike other systems that are already available, this system has inter-satellite links. Each satellite is talking to one satellite in the front, one in the back, and one east and west.”

There are nine additional birds in orbit that are available to step-in if any of the active satellites fail.

The initial plan is for service providers to use Snapdragon Satellite for two-way emergency messaging in North America and Europe, which is similar to what Apple launched late last year.

Using non-terrestrial L-band and S-band antennas, the service will evolve to SMS texting and other messaging applications and become available on lower-end devices sometime next year.

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The service uses Iridium’s L-band spectrum for uplink and downlink.

Quick connection

Under clear skies, the phones can connect to satellites in three seconds on average, and if not right away, another satellite will come into range in about 8 to 10 minutes.

“This is very fast when you compare to the competition that can take several minutes,” Grille noted. “You can send the full-size SMS in in less than 10 seconds.”

Device partners

Grille stated some OEMs already have their hands on Snapdragon Satellite. Garmin will provide support for the emergency messaging service.

Qualcomm is taking the lead on working with the OEMs and service providers that will in turn market the service to consumers and businesses.

The service is approved wherever Iridium is already approved, since the Snapdragon Satellite enabled devices will behave like existing Iridium devices. US Federal Communications Commission certification will follow the same process used by current Iridium satellite devices.

Qualcomm plans to add Snapdragon Satellite to other devices such as laptops, tablets, vehicles and IoT devices.