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Qualcomm, Bullitt unveil satellite messaging for phones at CES

In trouble somewhere remote with patchy cell coverage but able to see the sky? You can text for help

CES Satellite messaging via mobile phone appears to be the in-thing at this year's CES show in Las Vegas, with the launch of two services from comms chipmaker Qualcomm and UK-based smartphone company Bullitt Group.

Qualcomm's Snapdragon Satellite offering is set to offer two-way messaging for smartphones based on its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and will use the Iridium satellite network when available sometime in the second half of 2023.

Meanwhile, Bullitt Satellite Connect is set to be commercially available in Q1 2023, according to the company, and will be initially supported in an upcoming Motorola Defy smartphone using connectivity provided by via Bullitt's satellite partner Skylo.

Both services appear to be focused on providing a standard text messaging capability that can operate anywhere there is a view of the sky, particularly rural areas of the US with poor coverage from terrestrial cellular networks. Both mention the ability to alert the emergency services as a key capability of their platform.

The new services follow Apple's introduction of satellite support for emergency calls last year. The iPhone 14 incorporates a new Emergency SOS feature that can use a satellite line when no cellular service is available.

Qualcomm also announced last year that it is working with others on enabling a full 5G telecommunications service delivered using low Earth orbit satellites, following approval of 5G non-terrestrial networks (5G NTNs) in Release 17 of the 5G specifications from the 3GPP telecommunications standards body.

Qualcomm said that Snapdragon Satellite will provide global connectivity for handsets based on its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, which the chipmaker announced in November last year.

Contact them? Iridium!

The key piece of the puzzle comes in the Snapdragon 5G Modem-RF supporting the Iridium satellite network's L-band spectrum. Qualcomm plans for emergency messaging via Snapdragon Satellite to be available on next-generation smartphones in select regions later this year.

Snapdragon Satellite is also expected to support 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs) when these become available.

"Robust and reliable connectivity is at the heart of premium experiences. Snapdragon Satellite showcases our history of leadership in enabling global satellite communications and our ability to bring superior innovations to mobile devices at scale," Qualcomm SVP for cellular modems and infrastructure Durga Malladi, said in a statement.

Bullitt appears to be pitching its service as a kind of backup network that users in the US can fall back on if they find themselves in an area not served by their carrier.

"Bullitt Satellite Connect solves a real connectivity problem. Due to the sheer scale and topography of the country, no single carrier covers more than 70 percent of the US land mass and around 60 million Americans lose coverage for up to 25 percent of each day," claimed Bullitt Group co-founder Richard Wharton.

The company said its solution was developed in partnership with wireless chip outfit MediaTek to use capabilities in the latter's 3GPP NTN chipset, incorporated into a new Motorola phone designed by Bullitt. Details and availability of this new Motorola Defy handset will be available in the near future, Bullitt said.

Satellite text messaging is enabled by a Bullitt Satellite Messenger application that switches to the satellite link only when no cellular or Wi-Fi connection is available. The cost of the messages is charged to the satellite messaging subscriber, Bullit said, with subscription plans set to start from $4.99 per month.

Skylo, Bullitt's satellite connectivity partner, manages connections to devices via existing licensed satellite constellations, such as those operated by Inmarsat. ®

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