Android phones will soon get iPhone-like SOS satellite texting

But you'll need an Android smartphone with Qualcomm's top Snapdragon chip and modem, following the announcement at CES.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
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Soon, it won't be just iPhone 14 owners in the US and Europe who can enjoy Emergency SOS options via satellite. Mobile chipmaker Qualcomm and satellite operator Iridium have announced an agreement at CES 2023 to bring satellite connectivity to new premium Android smartphones in 2023. 

Qualcomm is calling its service Snapdragon Satellite, which will enable satellite-based two-way messaging for emergency use, SMS texting, and other messaging apps. Qualcomm says it's not just for emergencies but also for recreational use in remote, rural, and offshore locations. 

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

Also: CES 2023 Day 3: HTC and Google make announcements, plus other top stories

Iridium operates a constellation of 66 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, giving it global coverage so long as there's 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 located around the globe, 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 chip and the Snapdragon X70 modem, ZDNet's sister site CNET reports from CES.     

Also, it's not known whether consumers who have Snapdragon Satellite available need to pay, since the service will depend on how smartphone makers implement it. Apple offers Emergency SOS free for two years.  

In a December 30 filing with the SEC, Iridium said it had "entered into a service provider agreement to enable Iridium's technology in smartphones", and that -- as part of the agreement -- the "overall arrangements include substantial recoupment payments from each company for commercializing a similar capability with another party."

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

The partnership between Iridium and Qualcomm is part of a wider trend to extend mobile devices and networks with satellite technology. T-Mobile has partnered with SpaceX to use its Starlink satellites to provide coverage in remote areas with no existing cell service. Verizon is also working with Amazon's Project Kuiper to extend the former's 4G and 5G reach.  

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