Android’s upcoming standard feature of “piercing the sky” may be stronger than iPhone

"Satellite communication" is being popularized in every smartphone.

The motivation for popularization is not a rigid demand in the consumer market, but more like "smoothing" differentiated functions into a standard configuration.

▲ Connected to the satellite, there is hope

At present, the only smartphones that support the "satellite communication" function are Apple's iPhone 14 series and Huawei's Mate 50 series.

"Satellite communication" is mostly promoted as a "life-saving" function, which can use satellites to send out emergency information or distress signals. From our point of view, it is a bit better than nothing.

▲ Two-way satellite communication, exclusive Moment

Even though the majority of Android flagships do not support it, the differentiated function points have tilted the balance of competition towards products with "satellite communication".

In fact, at the same time that the iPhone 14 series launched satellite communications, Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Google, a group of technology manufacturers, also announced that they are deploying in the field of satellite communications.

During CES 2023, Qualcomm also announced a satellite communication solution called Snapdragon Satellite somewhere in the Nevada desert, which is aimed at all Android flagships.

Not surprisingly, in the second half of 2023, satellite communication will become a standard configuration for Androids, and as a result, satellite communication will also become a standard feature of smartphones.

Qualcomm satellite communication, integrated baseband, support two-way conversation

Unlike Apple's out-of-the-box configurations, Qualcomm provides mostly chip-level general-purpose solutions.

The satellite communication solution demonstrated by Qualcomm is based on the X70 baseband in Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which is used to connect with satellites and send and receive information.

However, Qualcomm said that this is a hardware-level function and cannot be upgraded through OTA for the time being, which also means that the current Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 flagships are temporarily out of satellite communication functions.

We can only wait for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 2 SoC in the second half of the year.

▲ Picture from: TheVerge

In terms of function, Qualcomm Satellite Communication is similar to Apple, and both support two-way communication and SOS emergency response services.

The solution for connecting with the satellite is a cooperation between Qualcomm and Iridium (Iridium). Back in 2019, Iridium launched a global satellite communications service called Certus.

A total of 66 satellites (8 launches) have been launched into space through SpaceX, forming the Iridium NEXT satellite network. Theoretically, this network will provide up and down connections at a speed of 352Kbps, and Iridium will continue to upgrade the network in the future to reach a final speed of 1.4Mbps.

Based on this, Qualcomm said that two-way satellite communication has greater potential, supports SMS information and other information applications, and can be used even in non-emergency situations, of course, this will cost more.

However, in Qualcomm's demo, after connecting with the satellite, in the App in the demo terminal, you can send a text message with a limit of 140 bytes to the preset whitelist contacts.

Moreover, Qualcomm said that this restriction will be extended to the final product, the purpose is to prevent spam from clogging the satellite network.

As for the SOS emergency response, it works directly with Garmin, calling the Garmin Response Team. When the device sends an SOS signal, Garmin's response coordinator will see the user's longitude and latitude , and identify the relevant emergency agencies for rescue.

▲ Qualcomm prototype search star process, the UI is a bit crude Picture from: gizmodo

Qualcomm's press conference and simple demonstration are a bit rough, more like opening up the bottom layer for manufacturers. Manufacturers just lick bricks and add tiles. Whether it is a villa or a prefabricated house depends on the major OEMs.

By the way, as for the service fees related to satellite communications, Qualcomm has also handed over to the OEM manufacturers, software, services, and fees are all paid out. Qualcomm is a middleman here, connecting the bottom layer and services, and the rest will be handed over to the manufacturer. We went to choose.

In theory, Qualcomm is better than Apple's solution

The satellite communication on the iPhone 14 series is a collaboration between Apple and GlobalStar. In the preparatory stage, Apple contributed money and efforts to repair and upgrade GlobalStar's infrastructure.

▲ GlobalStar ground station picture from: Apple

At the same time, GlobalStar provides 24 satellites for Apple's services, accounting for 85% of the network capacity. In other words, it is almost monopolized by Apple.

According to Apple's consistent practice, it does not rule out the final direct acquisition or capital injection of GlobalStar.

At the end of last year, Apple's satellite communication function also expanded from North America to the UK, France, Germany and Ireland in Europe, and the expansion plan is on track.

Iridium, which cooperates with Qualcomm, is superior to GlobalStar in terms of the number of satellites and network coverage density. Qualcomm's service will directly call Iridium's 66 satellite network, and Qualcomm's ambition is naturally to bring global equipment under compliance. Two-way satellite communication service.

Relatively speaking, Qualcomm has given a lot of freedom to what kind of services Androids will provide in the end. Not surprisingly, there will be more tricks than Apple in terms of functionality.

In a demonstration in the Nevada desert, it took about 3 to 10 seconds for Qualcomm's prototype to send or receive a message after it was connected to the satellite, much faster than some traditional satellite communication equipment.

▲ Picture from: engadget

Moreover, Qualcomm does not want satellite communication to become only an "emergency communication", but to expand into a regular communication channel with friends in remote areas with poor signals.

In addition, the satellite communication function is not limited to the smartphone market. In recent years, Qualcomm has also expanded into other fields, such as IoT and smart cars. It can also open up broader application scenarios for satellite communication through the intercommunication of chips.

A typical example is the smart car that stole the limelight at CES. Qualcomm can transplant the satellite communication function into the chip of the car platform, so that the next electric car has basic satellite communication function.

At the demonstration site, Qualcomm said bluntly that "Snapdragon Satellite provides true global coverage from the South Pole to the North Pole." Correspondingly, Qualcomm also expects the satellite communication function to complete the so-called global universal.

In fact, expanding to other fields and facing the world is also Apple's ultimate goal, but Qualcomm has formed an alliance with some Android manufacturers and even electric vehicle brands to popularize satellite communications. This truth.

However, compared to Apple's own set of services, Qualcomm, Android manufacturers, and car manufacturers may have different controls on this function, and it is prone to fragmentation. It may be difficult to achieve Apple's consistent experience in terms of experience. .

▲ Pixel is excluded

In addition, Qualcomm's satellite communication function is based on the X70 baseband and flagship chips, while Google's Tensor and Samsung's Exynos cannot support this service, which means that Pixel and Galaxy (some) products will not have satellite communication functions.

Even if the X70 baseband is plugged in, Qualcomm also said that it cannot support this feature. The implication is that if you want two-way satellite communication, please look for Qualcomm Snapdragon.

The satellite communication function on the mobile phone is a bit like a "twisted melon"

Since the satellite communication of the iPhone 14 series was launched, whether it was rescued or falsely reported, it will be posted on major media websites.

Those who were rescued praised the satellite communication function for sending the news in a timely manner, and finally got rescued within the golden rescue time.

False alarms are the frequent calls for help. When the rescue team arrives, they know that the alarm has been triggered by mistake. It has also been criticized as taking up limited rescue resources.

But in any case, they have given the iPhone a certain amount of exposure on the side. This is somewhat similar to the fall detection of the Apple Watch a few years ago, and the bullet-blocking of the mobile phone earlier.

Although the starting point of these functions is "saving people", the final result is more like a layer of marketing packaging.

The two-way satellite communication is also somewhat like this situation. This function belongs to an extreme situation in an extreme environment, and the probability of triggering it should be very low.

Nowadays, the functions of smartphones are gradually converging. In recent years, differentiated functions, especially satellite communications, which require deep integration of chips, services, software, and functions, are rare.

It can bring a functional vacuum in a short period of time and bring enough topicality to the product. It is undeniable that satellite communication may be a technology that will get rid of the shackles of operators in the future, but from the current perspective, it is still an extremely small function.

▲ Qualcomm emphasized that two-way satellite communication cannot replace "satellite phone" unless you install a satellite dish for Android

Qualcomm's integration of satellite communication on the chip this time is actually a bit like being pushed forward by Apple. The flagships in the second half of the year will be equipped with this feature as standard, which is also a big trend of "catching up" with the iPhone.

The rapid maturity and popularization of the satellite communication function industry is a bit like a twisted melon. For users, it is not sweet, or to put it another way, we have not tasted the sweetness yet.

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