Android to Get Satellite Internet Thanks to Qualcomm-Iridium Partnership

11-01-2023 | By Robin Mitchell

A recent partnership between Qualcomm and Iridium will see satellite connectivity in some future Android devices. What challenges does current world connectivity face, how will the partnership enable satellite connectivity, and why does Iridium provide better coverage than Starlink?

What challenges does current world connectivity face?

As the world becomes more dependent on technology, areas with limited internet access are becoming more problematic. For example, not having a stable internet connection can prevent users from browsing the internet, receiving emails, and making calls, all of which are now essential for modern life. This is why governments worldwide have pushed to get internet infrastructure to all homes, no matter how remote they are. Of course, when researching many of these initiatives, it comes as no surprise that contracts are given out to bring an internet cable close to homes but not to the physical home itself, leaving many just a few hundred yards away from gigabit connections, but required to pay thousands to get that last stretch of cable.

One solution to providing widespread coverage comes from cellular technologies such as 5G and 4G, and while lower frequency bands can reach out many kilometres, the presence of forests, trees, and hills can see seriously limited connectivity in remote areas (the hills of Devon are notorious for poor connectivity). Trying to install cell towers in remote areas also has numerous disadvantages, including the cost of installation, maintenance, and the expected number of users. 

Another solution is to utilise low-earth orbiting satellites such as those developed by SpaceX. Their low altitude enables low latency, while the large deployment of satellites provides worldwide coverage. However, there are concerns that such deployments are financially infeasible due to the few number of connections they can handle, the cost of launching satellites, and the potential to cause catastrophic failures of other orbiting satellites via Kessler Syndrome.

Android to get satellite internet thanks to Iridium

Trying to get internet connectivity to remote devices presents numerous challenges, but as with any project, it is better to start off slowly. Instead of trying to provide HD video streaming to devices in the middle of the Artic, Qualcomm and Iridium have partnered together to aim to provide basic connectivity to mobile devices.

By enabling basic messaging capabilities, devices capable of communicating with the Iridium satellites will be able to send and receive messages no matter their location on earth, thanks to worldwide coverage provided by the satellite constellation. 

The partnership between Qualcomm and Iridium will see modem devices integrated into next-generation android smartphones to provide satellite access. Thus, users of future Android devices will be able to stay connected no matter the status of terrestrial-based infrastructure, and this could provide a new level of safety for those out of cellular reach.

Why does Iridium provide better coverage than Starlink?

Despite Starlink having far more positive press and hype, the choice to use Iridium by Qualcomm makes sense when comparing the two services. Firstly, Iridium satellites are far more economical compared to Starlink, having proven themselves economically for over 20 years. By orbiting at a higher altitude (780km compared to 550km for Starlink), the Iridium constellation requires fewer satellites, and the focus on basic communication over high-speed internet access makes Iridium an ideal choice for basic messaging services.

Secondly, Iridium satellites are physically much larger, meaning that each satellite is significantly more expensive than Starlink to manufacture and launch. However, their expensive nature and inability to launch multiple satellites per launch mean that each Iridium satellite needs to be designed to much higher quality standards than Starlink satellites, as failures in orbit are likely to be unrecoverable. But this high degree of reliability results in satellites with long service life, thus requiring fewer replacements. By contrast, Starlink satellites require replacement once every five years, and this is one of the main economic concerns behind Starlink satellites.

Overall, the Iridium-Qualcomm partnership will help provide satellite capabilities in future Android devices, bringing about a new era of constant connectivity no matter where you are. 


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.