Earlier this year Qualcomm unveiled its Snapdragon Satellite technology that could enable smartphones to tape into satellite communications networks for 2-way messaging even when users had no access to terrestrial wireless service.

Now it looks like Snapdragon Satellite is dead in the water… or on the land… or whatever. Qualcomm had planned to partner with satellite communication provider Iridium to power its service, but now Iridium says that Qualcomm “has elected to terminate the agreements, effective December 3, 2023.”

So what went wrong? According to Iridium, the two companies “successfully developed and demonstrated the technology,” but “smartphone manufacturers have not included the technology in their devices.”

In a statement to CNBC, Qualcomm says it stills sees interest in smartphone-to-satellite communications from phone makers… they just don’t want to use Qualcomm’s proprietary solution, instead preferring standards-based solutions,” and that the chip maker will be discontinuing its proprietary solution, although it expects to continue collaborating with Iridium on standards-based solutions, whatever that means.

It’s unclear exactly what it was about Snapdragon Satellite that turned off phone makers. Maybe it didn’t work very well. Maybe they didn’t see much consumer demand for the technology. Maybe adding the hardware cost more than they were willing to pay. Or maybe they want to offer their own satellite subscription services rather than directing customers to pay Qualcomm or Iridium.

For its part, Iridium isn’t giving up on smartphones. The company says the dissolution of its agreement with Qualcomm frees the satellite communications company up to explore partnerships with other chip makers or smartphone companies.

At this point there are a handful of options for folks looking for a phone that can connect to satellite services. You could buy an iPhone 14 or later and use Apple’s Emergency SOS service. Or you could buy a Motorola defy satellite link for $149 and use it like a Bluetooth satellite modem for 2-way messaging on just about any phone. Motorola’s gadget makes use of MediaTek’s satellite technology.

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  1. FYI your link to the Motorola defy goes through a whole bunch of redirects and then presents a CJ Affiliate dotomi page about an advertising services partnership…

  2. “don’t want to use Qualcomm’s proprietary solution, instead preferring standards-based solutions,” yeah, that’s a laugh. If only they had the leverage to apply that mentality to phone SoCs as a whole, then maybe we could have had real operating system choice in phones, instead of looking at a future where you either run the OS your device came with, or that device gets kicked out of society.

    1. I think the main factor was Samsung. Since they didn’t go for it, basically it doesn’t matter, since all the other devices combined at the high-end (QC 8g2/8g3) don’t make a substantial difference.

      And even if they did, the next obstacle was price. Both of the companies above need to get their profits, so it would’ve ballooned the final SoC chipset price.

      And if Qualcomm offered it as an external chipset addition, it wouldn’t have been successful. Just like their External-5G antenna wasn’t really successful. OEMs waited until it was internal and higher efficiency before diving into the 5G Market in it’s infancy.

    2. I think OEMs are especially looking forward to interoperability, if a Snapdragon Satellite equipped phone can talk only to other Snapdragon Satellite equipped phones that would be a major issue for companies like Samsung that use different SoCs in their phones. It would be like having a different 5G standard for each SoC with phones equipped with different solutions incapable to communicate with each other. Communication is where an open standard is most needed (unless, of course, you’re Apple).

      For the record, the article doesn’t mention it, but in China the new Mate 60 Pro also offers its own, proprietary, satellite communication, including calls using China Telecom satellites, coverage is apparently limited to China, most of Eurasia and eastern Africa.