Android phones will soon get iPhone-like SOS satellite texting

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Soon not only iPhone 14 owners in the US and Europe will be able to enjoy Emergency SOS options via satellite. Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm and satellite operator Iridium announced an agreement at CES 2023 to bring satellite connectivity to new premium Android smartphones in 2023.

Qualcomm calls its service Snapdragon Satellite, which enables satellite-based two-way messaging for use in emergencies, SMS and other messaging apps. Qualcomm says it’s not just for emergency use, but also for recreational use in remote, rural and offshore locations.

Snapdragon Satellite for emergency messaging should be available on premium Android phones in selected regions in the second half of 2023.

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Iridium operates a constellation of 66 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, giving it global coverage as long as there is a clear view from the device to the sky.

Apple invested $450 million in Globalstar to support the iPhone 14’s Emergency SOS feature. Messages from iPhones go to one of GlobalStar’s 23 LEO satellites, are relayed to various ground stations around the world, and then forwarded to emergency services. However, the service is currently only available in Europe and North America.

The satellite feature will be available on Android smartphones that have both the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 system on the chip and the Snapdragon X70 modem, ZDNet’s sister site CNET reports from CES.

It is also not known whether consumers who have Snapdragon Satellite available will have to pay, as the service depends on how smartphone manufacturers implement it. Apple offers Emergency SOS free for two years.

In a Dec. 30 filing with the SEC, Iridium said it had “entered into an agreement with a service provider to enable Iridium’s technology in smartphones,” and that — as part of the agreement — the “general arrangements include substantial compensation payments from each company “. for commercializing a comparable capacity with another party.”

Snapdragon vice president Francesco Grilli noted that the GSM-like signal system from Iridium satellites is closer to 2G than 5G so users won’t be able to make voice calls until it replaces the satellites but it should have a long life for text messages.

The collaboration between Iridium and Qualcomm is part of a broader trend to augment mobile devices and networks with satellite technology. T-Mobile is partnering with SpaceX to use its Starlink satellites to provide coverage in remote areas with no existing cell service. Verizon is also partnering with Amazon’s Project Kuiper to extend the former’s 4G and 5G range.