Qualcomm is scrapping plans to offer a satellite SOS feature for Android phones that would have rivaled the one offered by Apple on its latest iPhones. The feature, Snapdragon Satellite, was announced in partnership with the satellite communications company Iridium in January. Now, just 10 months later, the plan is already dead.
Iridium said on Thursday that Qualcomm “elected to terminate” their partnership on the feature because no smartphone maker signed up to use it. The feature had already been “successfully developed and demonstrated,” Iridium writes. But apparently, the interest wasn’t there.
Qualcomm told CNBC that it’ll continue working with Iridium on “standards-based solutions” to satellite connectivity, even as it scraps the “proprietary solution” they had already developed. That indicates that Qualcomm could still try to deliver satellite connectivity features for Android phones down the road — but the initial lack of interest in this tech suggests it may not be anytime soon.
Price may be one of the reasons Snapdragon Satellite never got off the ground
Snapdragon Satellite was meant to rival Apple’s Emergency SOS feature, introduced in 2022 on the iPhone 14. The feature, in partnership with the satellite company Globalstar, allows iPhone users to alert emergency services or request roadside assistance over a satellite network when they’re out of range of normal cell service. The service is currently being offered for free, but Apple will begin charging users for access to satellite communications next year. The service’s price hasn’t been announced.
Price may be one of the reasons Snapdragon Satellite never got off the ground. Someone needs to pay Iridium for access to its satellites, and this system would have put Qualcomm in the middle of those payments. Smartphone makers may not have loved the idea of offering a service that was ultimately managed by Qualcomm.
That could explain why Qualcomm is now looking at a standards-based approach to satellite connectivity, which would presumably allow the smartphone maker to control the relationship with satellite companies. Google was found to be building support for emergency satellite services into Android in August.
Satellite connectivity is now shipping in all new iPhones, but Apple still hasn’t proven out demand for the service. Apple is currently covering the costs, so until users start having to pay, we won’t know how much people really see satellite connectivity as a must-have.
Iridium remains hopeful that phone makers will eventually come around and believes this is a feature users will want. “We are re-engaging with smartphone OEMs, other chipmakers, and smartphone operating system developers that we were collaborating with previously, as well as new potential partners,” Jordan Hassin, Iridium’s executive director of communications, told The Verge.