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.