With the news that Iridium and Qualcomm are teaming up to open up satellite connectivity for Android smartphones, along with the Apple iPhone 14 already offering the service in an incredibly limited, barely headline-worthy way, it seems undeniable that “the race To add a satellite, connecting to your smartphone is likely to dominate mobile news for the next two years at least.
In this case, we sat down with Richard Wharton and Jonathan Nattrass, co-founder and chief product officer respectively of Bullitt Group, a British powerful technology manufacturer that was actually the first to punch the punch in satellite communication — which sounds no less intimidating. by the adults attending to what was originally his party. We asked them how they saw the race unfold.
The race for satellite smartphones is considered to have “begun” now that some big players have woken up to its potential, but it also looks like it’s going to be a long, long race from this point on. What is the final end point as far as you are concerned?
Well it started in a much broader sense, but we’ve been making rugged devices for 13-14 years, and people who need rugged devices are often on the fringes of signal availability, so we put a proof of concept together for a satellite smartphone back in 2016, and showed it off to some People at Porton Down (UK Ministry of Defense Science and Technology Laboratory website). They liked it very much, but it was not commercially viable at the time.
But recently, we’ve taken a standards-based approach to the idea, and it’s become clear that there’s really a huge need for it. The opportunity in the United States is enormous, because no single carrier covers more than 70% of the land area. In Canada, it is even more severe – there is 30% less coverage. In Australia, it’s only 30% overall on any one carrier. Obviously, in the UK, we have better land mass coverage, but we still have topographical issues.
So there is an absolute need for this technology, but it goes beyond just an SOS. I mean, SOS is kind of a bit wasteful. Sure, it obviously provides an essential service when you need it. But not every time you want to message someone is a life-threatening emergency, sometimes you just broke down and didn’t break a limb. And sometimes you just want to let people know you’re going to be late, or you just want to find people in certain environments, you know? So, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to message someone when you don’t have a signal else from a real emergency.
democratization of communication.
For us, it’s about democratizing satellite communication, so we’re not going to limit it to just Bullitt phones. Our business model around this is that we’re going to license it to other handset manufacturers, enabling them to offer devices connected to NTN (Non-Terrestrial Networks) and take advantage of the service we’ve built.
And then, you know, NTN services are SMS-based now, but with version 18, under the 3GPP standards, we’re getting new 5G radio, so it’s going to provide more bandwidth, which will enable data and voice services — and that’s only a few years away.
So in the context of the environment, you have the big infrastructure plays that have been talked about with Vodafone and ASD systems, you know, AT&T with ASD system, Amazon Telephonic, T-Mobile with Starlink on SpaceX? Well, these plays are in their infancy. They must build new satellite constellations, and they must obtain regulatory approval to use spectrum that is not meant to go up into space. That’s billions of dollars of infrastructure.
Infrastructure hit a big punch.
The approach that we’ve taken, that’s been taken by Apple, that’s been taken by Qualcomm, although they’re a little late, is that we’re going to take advantage of Existing Satellite constellations, existing spectrum, and so on, we’ll get to 5G new radio capacity before that big infrastructure.
So this is where you are headed. It’s a race to discover unsettled places, connect hundreds of millions of people in emerging markets who don’t have access to reliable connections, race for competitive pricing over streaming technology, and then race for the new 5G radio.
Whether it’s emerging markets, people with outdoor lifestyles, or military applications, it will usher in a whole new chapter in mobile communications.
An idea whose time is coming.
And with great momentum behind it.
So this is the roadmap? Extensive terrestrial coverage, potential military markets, the ubiquity of phones and price points, and right up to the new 5G radio?
Yes, we think so. It’s like texting, which we can do now, is it the gateway medicine for the new 5G radio, right?
Satellite smartphones – medicine business technology portal. * Scribble notes for a future article. *
I mean, thankfully for us, we’re in a leadership position. Because we started early, probably because we had a target audience need to Emergency satellite communication In their rugged hardware, we’re several months ahead of the stalking pack. Qualcomm has announced something about their Snapdragon integration, and what we saw at the recent CES is that they’re at a point where we’ve been for some time. We have the chip in consumer ready hardware, this stuff is actually in production. right Now.
We will launch with Motorola device at Mobile World Congress Barcelona in February this year. This gives us an important initial advantage in the market, and our ambition is for other OEMs to be empowered by us. And we’re seeing a great deal of interest from network operators, because in those markets where there’s a lot of land, or topographical challenges, we’re offering that repackage opportunity right away. That level of flexibility in service and that 100% reassurance that you can call and you can get a message to someone. Our chipsets can be placed in any price range of devices.
While Iridium-Qualcomm’s offering is a tiered technology, it only starts in premium phones and flagship devices, so you’re paying a hefty price out of pocket for their satellite option, when it becomes available.
exactly. Our solution allows you to communicate via satellite, for the time being, using existing satellite networks, at any level of handset, not just the premium ones that will compete in the market with the iPhone 14.
Which could be important given the economy and the expected general contraction in technology sales.
right. What we plan to do is also provide an SDK (Software Development Kit) for the Android application ecosystem. So native messaging platforms can use the satellite link, so we’re going to enable that level of integration. So there’s a very well thought out plan and ecosystem that we’re going to develop.
In the second part of this article, we’ll delve deeper into the potential that satellite smartphones can offer — and the path from here and now to seamless mass diffusion of this innovation.