Samsung Electronics, a leader in advanced semiconductor technology, today announced that it has secured standardized 5G non-terrestrial networks (NTN) [1.] modem technology for direct communication between smartphones and satellites, especially in remote areas. Samsung plans to integrate this technology into the company’s Exynos modem solutions, accelerating the commercialization of 5G satellite communications and paving the way for the 6G-driven Internet of Everything (IoE) era. That’s noteworthy considering Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S23, does not use Samsung’s Exynos platform and instead only uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset.
Note 1. There are no ITU or ETSI standards for 5G NTN– only for 5G terrestrial networks. It is not even under consideration for the next revision o the 5G RAN standard– ITU-R M.2150-1.
NTN is a communications technology that uses satellites and other non-terrestrial vehicles to bring connectivity to regions that were previously unreachable by terrestrial networks, whether over mountains, across deserts or in the middle of the ocean. It will also be critical in assuring operability in disaster areas and powering future urban air mobility (UAM) such as unmanned aircraft and flying cars.
“This milestone builds on our rich legacy in wireless communications technologies, following the introduction of the industry’s first commercial 4G LTE modem in 2009 and the industry’s first 5G modem in 2018,” said Min Goo Kim, Executive Vice President of CP (Communication Processor) Development at Samsung Electronics. “Samsung aims to take the lead in advancing hybrid terrestrial-NTN communications ecosystems around the world in preparation for the arrival of 6G.”
By meeting the latest 5G NTN specifications defined by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP Release 17), [2.] Samsung’s NTN technology will help ensure interoperability and scalability among services offered by global telecom carriers, mobile device makers and chip companies.
Note 2. 3GPP Release 17 contains specs for 5G-NR over Non terrestrial Networks (NTN) and NB-IoT over NTN,
Impacts on 5GC of Satellite NG-RAN used as new RAN 3GPP access
In 3GPP Rel-17, only direct access with transparent satellite is considered, as shown in following figure:
For highly reliable NTN communication with low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, Samsung has developed and simulated 5G NTN standard-based satellite technology using its Exynos Modem 5300 reference platform to accurately predict satellite locations and minimize frequency offsets caused by the Doppler shift. Based on this technology, Samsung’s future Exynos modems will support two-way text messaging as well as high-definition image and video sharing. That would be an important development considering today’s phone-to-satellite services generally support only slow-speed emergency messaging (e.g. Apple iPhone 14). An offering that supports high-bandwidth services like video calling would presumably require far more satellites than today’s services use – and it could also pose a challenge to terrestrial mobile network operators looking to make profits from offering high-bandwidth services in remote or rural areas.
Additionally, Samsung said it plans to secure a standardized NB-IoT NTN technology for use in its next-generation modem platforms. With integrated satellite connectivity, Samsung’s NB-IoT solutions will eliminate the need for a separate high-power wireless antenna chip inside smartphones, providing mobile device makers with much greater design flexibility.
Samsung has not disclosed when the company might begin offering satellite services in its 5G NTN equipped phones, how much the service might cost, and which satellite operators might support the offering.
In a related development, Omnispace and Ligado Networks today announced a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to combine their respective spectrum holdings in order to offer “space-based, direct-to-device (D2D) solutions for global voice, text and data connectivity.”
The companies pledged to merge Ligado’s 40MHz of L-band satellite spectrum in the U.S. and Canada with Omnispace’s 60MHz of S-band satellite spectrum. “The combination of L- and S-band spectrum is a unique opportunity to expand the ecosystem of D2D applications and technologies, enhance user experience and extend service globally. For consumer smartphones, the offering will have enough bandwidth to go beyond emergency satellite texting by offering ubiquitous roaming mobile coverage with two-way voice, messaging and data capabilities,” according to the companies’ press release.
However, there are plenty of obstacles to the companies’ ambitions. For example, Ligado has spent years working to free its spectrum of interference concerns, and its financial footing remains a question. “Ligado has no cash and an overwhelming debt load,” tweeted analyst Tim Farrar with TMF Associates following the announcement from Ligado and Omnispace.
Bullitt Group, the British manufacturer specializing in rugged mobile phones, has revealed a few more details about its two-way satellite messaging service at CES 2023. The service will be commercially available in North America and Europe the first quarter of 2023, the company said. Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Latin America will launch sometime in the first half of 2023, with other regions following the second half of the year.
Bullitt said Motorola, a Lenovo company, will be the first to include Bullitt’s two-way satellite messaging technology. The next device in Motorola Mobility’s Defy phone line-up will be the first smartphone to support Bullitt’s satellite messaging service.
The company previously said it was using telecom chipset supplier MediaTek. It now says it will use Skylo for satellite connectivity. Skylo manages connections to devices over existing licensed GEO satellite constellations, like Inmarsat and others.
Bullitt Satellite Connect solves a real connectivity problem. American’s send 6 billion SMS text messages each day* but, due to the sheer scale and topography of the country, no single carrier covers more than 70% of the US land mass and around 60 million Americans lose coverage for up to 25% of each day**.
That means hundreds of millions of instances where people who want to communicate via their phone cannot. Coverage blackspots persist to a greater and lesser extent the world over. We have a truly international solution. Bullitt Satellite Messenger provides total reassurance that you will have a connection wherever you have a clear view of the sky.
Citing data from Opensignal, Bullit said it’s solving “a real connectivity problem,” where around 60 million Americans lose coverage for up to 25% of each day. Bullitt Satellite Messenger promises to provide a signal wherever there’s a clear view of the sky, similar to the service Qualcomm announced this week with Iridium for Android devices.
The Bullitt service works by combining Bullitt smartphone hardware and an OTT app, Bullitt Satellite Messenger, to send messages to any smartphone. The service will first try to connect via Wi-Fi or cellular, and if neither are available, it will connect via satellite.
“The service works by combining Bullitt smartphone hardware and the bespoke OTT app, Bullitt Satellite Messenger, to send messages to any smartphone, anywhere you have a clear view of the sky. The service will first try to connect via Wi-Fi or cellular as normal, and if neither are available it will connect via satellite. Anyone can receive a message as a simple SMS to their existing phone and can respond by downloading the associated Android or iOS app.”
Qualcomm and Iridium have introduced Snapdragon Satellite, a solution that brings satellite-to-cellular services to next-generation Android smartphones. Snapdragon Satellite will support two-way messaging from pole to pole in remote, rural, and offshore locations on premium Android smartphones.
Snapdragon Satellite will provide global connectivity using mobile messaging from around the world1, starting with devices based on the flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform.
Powered by Snapdragon 5G Modem-RF Systems and supported by the fully operational Iridium® satellite constellation, Snapdragon Satellite will enable OEMs and other service providers to offer truly global coverage. The solution for smartphones utilizes Iridium’s weather-resilient L-band spectrum for uplink and downlink.
“Robust and reliable connectivity is at the heart of premium experiences. Snapdragon Satellite showcases our history of leadership in enabling global satellite communications and our ability to bring superior innovations to mobile devices at scale,” said Durga Malladi, SVP and GM of Cellular Modems and Infrastructure at Qualcomm.
Image credit: Jose Luis Stephens/Adobe Stock
While the partners say the service can be used for recreational purposes, satellite connectivity is most beneficial for emergencies.
Apple partnered with Globalstar last year to launch its own satellite-powered emergency SOS feature. Numerous people reported that the feature saved their lives just weeks after launch.
In one case, after a car plunged off a mountain cliff, a passenger’s iPhone automatically detected the crash and made a satellite SOS call to alert emergency services of the accident and its location. Within 30 minutes, the occupants were rescued by helicopter.
“If they hadn’t been able to get out the SOS, they could have spent overnight there, gotten wet, developed hypothermia,” Sergeant John Gilbert, a deputy for the local sheriff’s department, told PEOPLE. “To walk out and get help, in a remote area with no cell reception, they were lucky.”
Snapdragon Satellite will provide similar benefits for Android users, starting with devices based on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform.
“Iridium is proud to be the satellite network that supports Snapdragon Satellite for premium smartphones,” said Matt Desch, CEO, Iridium. “Our network is tailored for this service – our advanced, LEO satellites cover every part of the globe and support the lower-power, low-latency connections ideal for the satellite-powered services enabled by the industry-leading Snapdragon Satellite. Millions depend on our connections every day, and we look forward to the many millions more connecting through smartphones powered by Snapdragon Satellite.”
Snapdragon Satellite will use Garmin’s satellite emergency response services.
“Garmin welcomes the opportunity to expand our proven satellite emergency response services to millions of new smartphone users globally,” said Brad Trenkle, VP of Garmin’s outdoor segment. “Garmin Response supports thousands of SOS incidents each year and has likely saved many lives in the process, and we are looking forward to collaborating with Qualcomm Technologies and Iridium to help people connect to emergency services no matter where life takes them.”
In the near future, Qualcomm and Iridium say that Snapdragon Satellite will expand to other devices including laptops, tablets, vehicles, and IoT devices.
“Working with a mobile technology leader such as Qualcomm Technologies and their powerful Snapdragon platforms allows Iridium to serve the smartphone industry horizontally – and offers us an opportunity to enable other consumer and vehicular applications in the future,” concludes Desch.
Apple finally confirmed a longstanding rumor that its new iPhones will be able to connect directly to LEO satellites to send and receive text messages. The feature, called Emergency SOS, will allow iPhone 14 models to message from remote locations not covered by traditional cellular infrastructure. Apple says the service launches in November and will be free to iPhone 14 buyers for two years. It didn’t specify what it might cost after that. Apple noted at Wednesday’s Cupertino, CA HQ event that its smartphone would need to be pointed directly at a satellite to work, and that even light foliage could make texts a few minutes to send.
Globalstar confirmed in a filing Wednesday that it will be operating the service through a partnership with Apple. Under that agreement, Apple will cover 95% of the capital expenditures made by Globalstar to build up its network, including new satellites, to provide the service. It will require Globalstar to allocate 85% of its “current and future network capacity” to support the service, which analyst Mike Crawford of B. Riley describes as “in one fell swoop converting an underutilized asset to a productive asset.”
The deal will include service fees and potential bonus payments, allowing Globalstar to project total revenue in a range of $185 million to $230 million for next year and $250 million to $310 million for 2026, which is expected to be the first full year that all of the company’s new satellites are operational. Even the low end of the near-term target would be a record high for the satellite-service provider, representing a gain of 44% above the annual revenue Globalstar has averaged for the past three years. Globalstar notably broke from the traditionally dry language of SEC filings to describe the deal as “transformational.”
Globalstar, currently offers SPOT X which provides 2-way satellite messaging so users can stay connected whenever you’re outside of cellular range, including direct communication with search & rescue services in case of a life-threatening emergency. SPOT X provides your own personal U.S. mobile number so others can message you directly from their mobile phone or SMS devices at any time.
Globalstar Satellite System:
Like “bent-pipes” or mirrors in the sky, the Globalstar satellites pick up signals from over 80% of the Earth’s surface. Our satellites transmit customer signals via CDMA technology to antennas at the appropriate terrestrial gateway, then the signals are routed through the local networks. This highly effective design offers the shortest connectivity latency and enables Globalstar to upgrade our system with the latest technology on the ground.
Globalstar’s new satellite constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and second generation ground infrastructure deliver exceptional quality, reliable coverage and high quality service to its customers.
Image Credit: Globalstar
The company’s patented satellite path and gateway diversity technologies allow customers to stay connected in the event of a single satellite failure by automatically transmitting to the next available satellite. This ensures uninterrupted communication in even the most suboptimal conditions like mountainous areas or urban canyons.
There is increasing competition for LEO satellite based internet access from smartphones:
- Starlink/SpaceX, announced a deal last month with T-Mobile to launch a text-based service by the end of next year. The Apple-Globalstar service might have cooled some enthusiasm. It is designed for emergency texting only, as opposed to providing a more typical smartphone experience in the wild.
- In addition to T-Mobile’s venture with SpaceX, the Globalstar rival Iridium announced in July that it has entered a development agreement with an unnamed company for a smartphone service that it expects to complete by the end of the year. Ric Prentiss of Raymond James wrote Thursday that the total addressable market “for satellite-smartphone off-the-grid connectivity is quite large with room for several initiatives globally.”