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Challenges Persist as Global Satellite Connectivity for Smartphones Faces Roadblocks in 2023

by Anna

In the aftermath of significant developments within the global satellite industry throughout 2023, the widely anticipated realization of widespread phone-to-satellite connectivity remained elusive. Despite the integration of multiple orbits, advancements in direct-to-device connectivity, and a notable shift toward deploying sophisticated medium to large satellites, the year concluded with minimal progress in the realm of satellite connectivity on smartphones.

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The Promise of Satellite Connectivity

Pioneering this frontier, Apple’s iPhone 14 introduced the Emergency SOS via Satellite feature in 2022. This unique feature enables users to dispatch texts to emergency services by leveraging satellite networks. However, Qualcomm, the tech giant, encountered hurdles in expanding this feature using its Snapdragon chips. Despite an impressive demonstration at CES 2023 showcasing the utilization of the Iridium network to relay emergency texts, data, and videos, the envisioned breakthrough failed to materialize. Qualcomm’s partnership with Iridium concluded without a single phone equipped with Snapdragon Satellite making its debut.

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Wireless Carriers’ Efforts and Challenges

Efforts by wireless carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, who proposed satellite solutions, also experienced setbacks. Collaborations like T-Mobile’s with SpaceX and AT&T’s partnership with AST SpaceMobile remained shrouded in secrecy, offering no updates on their progress. Similarly, Verizon’s engagement with Amazon’s Project Kuiper, despite successfully launching test satellites, remained obscure.

Barriers to Widespread Adoption

The impediments to widespread adoption of satellite texting are diverse. High costs and the industry’s preference for a standards-based solution compatible with the 3GPP’s non-terrestrial networks (NTN) standard constitute primary obstacles. Qualcomm’s proprietary solution faced skepticism as it risked obsolescence should the industry pivot toward the 3GPP’s NTN standard. In contrast, Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite feature remains distinctive, with Apple absorbing costs as a value-added benefit for iPhone users.

Looking Ahead

Entering 2024, the smartphone industry maintains optimism about the future of satellite connectivity. Despite setbacks faced by companies like Qualcomm, the potential advantages of this technology, such as global coverage and enhanced emergency services, continue to captivate interest and investment. However, the path towards universal satellite connectivity for smartphones is laden with challenges and uncertainties. The tech industry eagerly awaits how giants navigate these obstacles to fulfill the promise of ubiquitous connectivity.

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