Why the iPhone 14 and Other Phones Have Satellite Connectivity
Over the past year or so, we’ve seen companies brag about a weird new feature in phones: satellite connectivity. Apple’s iPhone 14 is the most hyped example, but it’s also available in the Huawei Mate 50 Pro, while Qualcomm recently announced it will soon be available in new flagship Android models powered by its processors and supporting Snapdragon Satellite service.
So why would you want satellite connectivity in a smartphone and is it something you should be looking for in the next upgrade?
What is Satellite Connectivity?
Normal mobile communications are handled by signals sent and received through cell towers. The problem with these is that you need to be within a certain range of the tower for your signal to be strong enough to use for calls, messages, and data.
That’s why you have signal bars on your phone’s status bar, indicating signal strength or weakness. Distance isn’t the only factor, though, and you could have a weak signal because you’re in a valley, or something else is blocking the signal, like tall buildings.
In well-populated areas, signal isn’t usually an issue, but you won’t find many cell towers in the countryside, on a mountaintop, or at sea.
This is where satellite connectivity comes in. As you might guess, phones that have it can use satellites orbiting the Earth to relay information.
Due to the distance from the satellites, sending messages may take longer (between 15 seconds and a minute) and you will also need to point your device towards them for the best chance of transmitting the data.
It’s all listed in the apps on the affected phones, so there’s no need to guess.
Can I make phone calls via satellite?
There are specialized satellite phones that can make calls using space technology – you may have seen them in action movies where they are called “satellite phones”, but they are bulky and are usually rented by the day with businesses. like GTC or Zoleo.
The iPhone 14 and upcoming Android phones, however, are not satellite phones. They have satellite-only connectivity to send messages to emergency services when you are in areas outside of cellular network coverage and need help. You won’t talk to anyone on the phone, nor will you be able to text: this is a specific one-way communication that lets the service know where you are and what your problem is.
Once the message is sent via satellite, help should be on the way, with the satellite connection keeping track of your location.
For more details, here is how to use Emergency SOS via satellite on iPhone.
Qualcomm says its Snapdragon Satellite technology will enable two-way messaging, paving the way for more social use of satellite connectivity, but we’ll have to wait for it to arrive to see exactly what’s possible.
What is the purpose of satellite connectivity in a smartphone?
Right now, it’s a feature you hope you never need to use. Unless you suddenly find yourself in an emergency and have no mobile signal on your phone, there’s no real point in having satellite communications on your phone, so it’s not not necessarily a key feature to look for in your next upgrade. But it could be a lifesaver.
Much of the marketing we’ve seen so far is aimed at those who go on adventures in the mountains, hike through huge woods, or engage in other outdoor activities that give you would usually take to places where there are no cell towers. Knowing that you’re not cut off from rescue if something goes wrong is a feature worth having.
This goes hand in hand with other safety features that are starting to appear in mobile technology, such as collision detection.
Which smartphones have satellite connectivity?
As mentioned above, there are few at the moment. Due to hardware requirements, this is not a feature that can be added to existing models via software update. So if your phone is not one of the ones below (all models available at the time of writing), it won’t get the feature during its lifetime:
The recent announcement of Snapdragon Satellite should quickly expand the selection, with new compatible Android devices expected to arrive in the second half of 2023.
How much does satellite connectivity cost?
Apple is giving the service free for two years when you buy a new iPhone 14. As this is still a new service, we don’t have any information on what it might cost after the two years are up. Huawei offers satellite-only connectivity in the Chinese market for the Mate 50 Pro, and Qualcomm said pricing would be reduced for OEMs (like Samsung) and mobile service providers. Hopefully things will become a little clearer in the near future.
Until then, be sure to check out our guides to the best smartphones and the best upcoming phones of 2023.
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