Exploring Satellite Connectivity on Smartphones: Huawei, not Apple, introduced satellite connectivity on a mainstream smartphone on September 6 of last year. The following day, on September 8, Cupertino introduced this new technology with the iPhone 14 series. Satellite connectivity enables a phone to connect to a low-orbit satellite and send an SOS signal even when cellular signal reception is unavailable.
The lifesaving satellite communication feature will soon be available on more phones. Google has made it compatible with Android 14, and there are rumours that Qualcomm will introduce it to Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi devices. It is evident that satellite communication on mobile phones could be the next big thing, so it is essential that you understand what it is and how it operates.
Exploring Satellite Connectivity on Smartphones: What is satellite connectivity on modern mobile devices?
Old satellite phones with lengthy antennas protruding from their heads; you must have seen them if you’re anything like us. A satphone, as opposed to terrestrial cell sites, connects to other phones or the telephone network via a radio link through satellites orbiting the Earth. This allows them to be effective even in the most remote areas.
Most of us cannot carry a satellite phone in our pockets, so manufacturers are incorporating the technology into modern smartphones, albeit without conspicuous antennas. However, current technology only permits the transmission of text messages via satellite and not voice communications. In addition, smartphones must meet certain hardware requirements to support this feature. As Mishaal Rahaan notes, the feature will be dependent on the modem hardware in your device.
If you’re pondering how this feature can benefit you, consider the following scenario: Suppose you are feeling adventurous and decide to travel to a remote part of the globe. You arrive and discover that you are beyond the range of cell towers. God forbid you find yourself in a dire situation and are unable to contact anyone. This issue can be resolved by satellite communication on your phone, which can provide a connection even when no terrestrial network is available. We have heard of numerous instances in which satellite SOS technology has saved lives, the most recent being a family that utilised this function to escape the Hawaii wildfires.
How does smartphone satellite connectivity work?
For smartphones to support satellite connectivity, hardware and software must be tightly integrated. The hardware components of the Apple iPhone 14 and 14 Pro are profoundly integrated with the software, allowing antennas to connect directly to a satellite.
Apple has formed a partnership with Globalstar, which operates a constellation of 48 low-orbit satellites. Apple developed a unique compression algorithm that reduces the size of text messages by a third in order to transmit them via satellite. One of Globalstar’s satellites in low-earth orbit, which travels at approximately 16,000 mph, receives the emergency message. The satellite then transmits the message to ground stations located in strategic locations around the globe.
Thanks to China’s global BeiDou satellite network, the Huawei Mate 50 and Mate 50 Pro are able to transmit brief texts and use navigation. However, according to Huawei’s description of the system, the Mate 50 phones can only transmit texts via satellite, not receive them.
There is a possibility that future smartphones will implement the technology differently. Even voice and data connectivity may be added.
Exploring Satellite Connectivity on Smartphones: What does the future hold?
Many Android manufacturers may implement this feature in their impending flagship smartphones. Qualcomm announced at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) that Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, Motorola, Nothing, and Honour are preparing to add satellite communication capabilities to their mobile devices. However, there are currently no specific details available.
In conjunction with satellite service provider Iridium, Qualcomm unveiled its Snapdragon Satellite technology at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. Similar to iPhones, Android smartphones will be able to send and receive two-way text messages and access other messaging applications using satellites in emergency situations.
Moreover, a recent report indicates that Google intends to introduce satellite connectivity to Messages (via Mishaal Rahaman). The search giant appears to be adding the user interface (UI) components necessary to initiate emergency SOS messages via satellite within its Messages application. Google has already announced that Android 14 will support satellite connectivity, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
T-Mobile also announced a partnership with SpaceX to offer smartphone satellite connectivity via Starlink satellites. In February 2023, MediaTek also joined the competition and debuted two chipsets that facilitate two-way satellite communication on smartphones. And let’s not ignore the rumours circulating since last year regarding satellite connectivity on future Samsung flagships.
Smartphones with satellite connectivity are the next major thing
There is no doubt that satellite communication on mobile devices has the potential to have a major impact on our lives. Particularly in life-threatening situations, the prospect of continuous, extensive connectivity can be a game-changer. Clearly, this transforms smartphone satellite communication from a luxury to a potential saviour.