A new partnership between Qualcomm and Iridium will see satellite connectivity in some future Android devices. What are the challenges facing the current global connectivity, how will the partnership provide satellite connectivity and why does Iridium provide better coverage than Starlink?
What are the challenges facing the current world connectivity?
As the world becomes more dependent on technology, areas with limited internet access become more problematic. For example, lack of a stable internet connection may prevent users from browsing the web, receiving emails and making calls, all of which are now essential to modern life. That’s why governments around the world are trying to bring internet infrastructure to all homes, no matter how far away they are. Of course, when examining many of these initiatives, it’s not surprising that contracts are being awarded to run Internet cabling closer to homes than to the physical home itself, leaving many just a few hundred meters away from gigabit connections, but it’s required. Paying thousands to buy the last piece of cable.
One solution to providing wide coverage comes from mobile technologies such as 5G and 4G, and while low frequency bands can reach many kilometers, the presence of forests, trees and hills can see severely limited connectivity in remote areas (the Devon hills are notorious for poor connectivity). Attempting to install cell towers in remote areas has numerous drawbacks, including installation, maintenance, and expected number of users.
Another solution is to use low-orbit satellites, such as those developed by SpaceX. Their low altitude ensures low latency, while the wide deployment of satellites covers the entire globe. However, there are concerns that such deployments are financially unfeasible due to the few communications they can handle, the cost of launching satellites, and the potential for catastrophic failures of other orbiting satellites through Kessler Syndrome.
Thanks to Android Iridium, the satellite will get internet
Trying to get internet connectivity to remote devices presents numerous challenges, but as with any project, it’s best to start slowly. Instead of trying to provide HD video streaming to devices in the middle of Artica, Qualcomm and Iridium have partnered to bring mainstream connectivity to mobile devices.
By enabling basic messaging capabilities, devices capable of communicating with Iridium satellites will be able to send and receive messages regardless of their location on Earth thanks to the worldwide coverage provided by the satellite constellation.
The partnership between Qualcomm and Iridium will see modem devices integrated into the next generation of Android smartphones to provide satellite access. This way, users of future Android devices will be able to communicate regardless of the status of the ground infrastructure, which could provide a new level of security for those outside of cellular communications.
Why does Iridium have better coverage than Starlink?
Despite more positive press and hype, Starlink Qualcomm’s choice to use Iridium makes sense when comparing the two services. First, Iridium satellites are more economical than Starlink, which has proven itself economically for more than 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 communications via high-speed internet makes Iridium an ideal choice for basic messaging services.
Second, Iridium satellites are physically larger, meaning each satellite costs significantly more to manufacture and launch than Starlink. However, their expensive nature and inability to launch more than one satellite per launch means each The Iridium satellite must be built to higher quality standards than the Starlink satellites, because it is impossible to recover from orbital faults. But this high degree of reliability results in a long service life of the satellites, thus requiring fewer replacements. In contrast, Starlink satellites have to be replaced every five years, and this is one of the main economic concerns behind Starlink satellites.
Overall, the Iridium-Qualcomm partnership will help enable satellite capabilities in future Android devices, ushering in a new era of always-on connectivity no matter where you are.