Snapdragon Satellite: Qualcomm unveils its answer to Apple’s emergency satellite SOS

Qualcomm unveiled its Snapdragon satellite at CES 2023. While Apple has partnered with Globalstar to offer satellite emergency SOS functionality on the iPhone 14, Qualcomm has unveiled a solution developed in conjunction with rival company Iridium. So this year we should see an emergency SOS feature via satellite on Android.

The news comes after Motorola CAT and the Bullit Group, makers of rugged phones, announced a similar feature ahead of the iPhone 14 launch. Although Bullit’s system is based on an unannounced MediaTek SoC, it will be available for devices using the Snapdragon Satellite Snapdragon X70 modem. for example on Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.

Snapdragon Satellite also works for non-emergencies / © Qualcomm

Snapdragon Satellite: Integration will depend on smartphone manufacturers

Since Qualcomm only supplies components to smartphone manufacturers, it will be up to them to provide a feature that requires support for a specific frequency range from 1610 to 1626. 5 MHz. For this reason, models simply cannot be updated in firmware to support the satellite emergency SOS function.

Qualcomm’s vice president of product management, Francesco Grilli, responded with a firm “no comment” when asked about the price. All indications are that it will be up to the companies to negotiate contracts with Iridium.

Similarly, when asked when the feature would be available, Grilli said Qualcomm expects to launch the first compatible smartphones in the second half of 2023.

The company plans to roll out the technology first in North America and Western Europe, with no timetable for other markets. However, eligible devices purchased in these markets will have full access to the Iridium constellation.


Iridium promises coverage even at the poles and over oceans thanks to intersatellite links / © Iridium

Better coverage than the Apple feature

Iridium’s service is similar to that of Globalstar (interestingly, a spin-off from Qualcomm). However, Qualcomm’s Grilli noted that its partners’ coverage is superior, thanks to the use of more low-orbit satellites and the lack of ground gateways.

“No part of the world is without a signal,” said Qualcomm, which has found coverage at the poles and in the middle of the oceans.

Messages passing through the system can take up to 10 seconds to be delivered, but Qualcomm has announced an average time of 3 seconds for SMS. Screenshots shared by the company show a 140 character limit for the initial Snapdragon Satellite app.

Qualcomm Snapdragon satellite

Initially, the service will be based on a standalone application for Android with an interface for determining the location of the nearest satellite / © Qualcomm.

Operation through individual software

Snapdragon Satellite’s capabilities are basically similar to Apple’s Emergency SOS feature. As soon as cellular or Wi-Fi coverage ends, a special interface will appear to direct your smartphone to the nearest satellite.

First, the service will require the use of a standalone application that can send and receive short text messages (two-way communication) unlike the Apple service.

In the future, Qualcomm thinks that this feature will be better integrated into the OS and that it can be activated in a more automated way. There are currently no plans to release Snapdragon Satellite as an Android API, but that may change in the (distant) future.

Snapdragon Ride Flex

The concept car is not included in the service / © Qualcomm

Snapdragon Ride Flex

Among other CES 2023 innovations, Qualcomm announced the Snapdragon Ride Flex SoC family. It can be adapted for a variety of uses, including feeding information to digital cockpits and even automated driving (AD).

This positions Qualcomm against Nvidia, which already supplies Tegra systems to connected cars. Qualcomm plans to start production of the automotive platform in 2024.

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