Emergency satellite communication is coming to Android phones


hen the iPhone 14 launched last year, it arrived with a feature that could prove a literal lifesaver: Emergency SOS. The service allows iPhone owners to send emergency messages seeking assistance outside of regular cellular reception.

It’s the kind of feature you hope never to use. But for those that venture beyond London for adventures and ski trips, being able to send for help via satellites is a feature that you don’t want to be without.

Now a whole host of new Android handsets are going to get similar functionality, as Qualcomm — the chipmaker behind the Snapdragon chips that power the vast majority of Android handsets — has announced a partnership with Iridium, the custodian of 75 satellites orbiting Earth.

Snapdragon Satellite will be available on devices powered by Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 — meaning Android handsets on the pricier end — and will be enabled in “select regions” in the second half of 2023. The likes of India and China, which ban satellite phones, will clearly be excluded from that list.

Once enabled, it will reportedly work in much the same way as Apple’s Emergency SOS. With a clear view of the sky, an on-screen message will guide you on where to point your handset to connect to a nearby satellite.

Unlike Apple’s implementation, Qualcomm apparently plans to allow use of the feature in non-emergency situations, where you just want to send a message home when out of regular reception.

There will likely be a cost involved in this and it won’t offer the same flexibility as a modern messaging app. Satellites are low bandwidth, constantly moving hundreds of miles from Earth, so missives will be limited to around 160 characters like an SMS message, with no photos or videos allowed. In other words, you should treat this as a last resort.

Qualcomm says the technology will be coming to “multiple” manufacturers in the second half of this year, which means that Snapdragon 8 Gen 2-powered devices released early — such as the Samsung Galaxy S23, widely tipped for February — could miss out. That said, Samsung’s latest flagship has long been tipped to feature satellite communications with Iridium, so it seems likely to be an exception.

Beyond Qualcomm and Iridium, others are getting in on the act. Last year, T-Mobile announced a partnership with SpaceX to bring connectivity via the company’s Starlink satellites, and UK firm Bullitt has unveiled plans for its Satellite Connect service to debut on the next version of Motorola’s rugged Defy handset later this year.

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