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CES: Qualcomm, Iridium reveal global, satellite-based texting for smartphones

Qualcomm Technologies and Iridium Communications have announced the first truly global, off-the-grid text messaging service for cellphones.

The companies recently demonstrated the Snapdragon Satellite technology, which uses special radio frequency and modem systems, at CES in Las Vegas.

Unlike the emergency service provided by iPhone 14s in North America and part of Western Europe, Snapdragon Satellite will offer fast, two-way texting anywhere in the world.

That’s thanks to Iridium’s network of satellites, which can talk to each other without ground station relays, and to its largely weatherproof L-band frequency spectrum.

SpaceX’s controversial Starlink constellation also plans to offer satellite-to-satellite linkages, but it is still being tested. It also requires a small satellite dish and a router to use, but provides high-speed internet, not just text.

GPS company Garmin Ltd will handle Snapdragon Satellite’s emergency messages via its Garmin Response service, which already deals with thousands of SOS incidents each year.

The team projects Snapdragon Satellite will appear in flagship smartphones by late 2023, and in laptops, tablets, vehicles and other uses not long after.

The plan is to roll out emergency services first and offer premium messaging later, likely at an extra cost via cell carriers or other service providers.

Iridium has a long history in the Valley; its NEXT satellites are built at Orbital ATK's facility in Gilbert.

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Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ from 2016 to 2024.