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Qualcomm and Iridium end their satellite chip partnership

Less than a year after it was announced, mobile chip giant Qualcomm has drawn a line under its satellite-to-phone collaboration with satellite firm Iridium.

Andrew Wooden

November 10, 2023

3 Min Read
Qualcomm and Iridium end their satellite chip partnership

Less than a year after it was announced, mobile chip giant Qualcomm has drawn a line under its satellite-to-phone collaboration with satellite firm Iridium.

Announced at CES 2023, the partnership was supposed provide satellite-to-phone services via Snapdragon Satellite, which was based on Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 SoC, and satellites from Iridium.

Iridium said in a statement that while the two firms had successfully developed and demonstrated the technology, smartphone manufacturers have not opted to include it in their devices and as such Qualcomm notified it that it has chosen to terminate the agreement.

“While I’m disappointed that this partnership didn’t bear immediate fruit, we believe the direction of the industry is clear toward increased satellite connectivity in consumer devices,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch. “Led by Apple today, MNOs and device manufacturers still plan, over time, to provide their customers with expanded coverage and new satellite-based features, and our global coverage and regulatory certainty make us well suited to be a key player in this emerging market. User experience will be critical to their success, and we’ve proven that we can provide a reliable, global capability to mobile users.”

A Qualcomm statement as reported by CNBC said that smartphone manufacturers have “indicated a preference towards standards-based solutions” for satellite-to-phone connectivity, and “we expect to continue to collaborate with Iridium on standards-based solutions while discontinuing efforts on the proprietary solution that was introduced earlier this year.”

What form this corporation on standards-based solutions will take we will have to wait and see, but both statements indicate they hadn’t had much success selling the solution they had produced as a result of their relatively brief partnership.

Commenting on the news, Peter Kibutu, Advanced Technology Lead – NTNs at 5G satellite consultancy TTP said: “Proprietary satellite technology should only be seen as a short-term solution to meet the needs for direct-to-handset satellite communications, so it’s unsurprising that Qualcomm and Iridium have experienced a lack of uptake from handset manufacturers who are interested in long-term solutions. This is because the use of proprietary solutions constrains the connectivity to individual satellite networks and doesn’t take advantage of the already vibrant standards-based ecosystem.

“The long-term solution, and one that Qualcomm says it expects to continue exploring with Iridium, will be based on 3GPP NTN standards and will leverage existing industry ecosystems. Non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) based on 3GPP standards will provide open access to satellite connectivity across multiple satellite and terrestrial networks, unlocking a wider market and new use cases. This openness is what will enable the mass adoption of direct-to-device NTN services, with global deployment of end-user services akin to what 4G operators offer today.”

Now the deal has been axed, Iridium says that it will be free to directly re-engage with smartphone OEMs, other chipmakers, and smartphone operating system developers that it had been collaborating with previously. The termination of the agreement does not affect Iridium’s financial guidance for the year we’re told, which would seem to indicate there were not high expectations internally for the venture at the time they were drafted.

 

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About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins Telecoms.com on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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