Rows of small, general aviation aircraft, lined up at Henderson Executive Airport in Nevada

Iridium satellite-to-smartphone deal expected to expand pilot take-up

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RGN BIZ logo with a bizjet to the left and a tagline to the rightMany business aviation and general aviation pilots carry Iridium satellite-powered phones in their flight bag in order to avail of global voice, text messaging, SOS alerting and location tracking. But now that a new partnership has been forged between Iridium and Qualcomm Technologies to enable messaging and emergency services in smartphones, does Iridium expect to see an encroachment on its traditional sat phone services business with pilots?

Runway Girl Network put the question to Iridium CEO Matt Desch, who is a licensed pilot. “We believe this expands our market among the pilot community,” he said, adding:

Serious backcountry pilots aren’t going to give up their purpose-built Garmin, Zoleo, Bivy or Iridium device for this, but casual flyers now can have an additional safety net and send the occasional text message if out of coverage.

Iridium is not the first satellite operator to facilitate emergency services for smartphones. Last fall, Apple announced a partnership with Globalstar for an SOS texting service that debuted on iPhone 14 models.

“Emergency SOS via satellite can help you connect with emergency services under exceptional circumstances when no other means of reaching emergency services are available,” Apple explained. “If you call or text emergency services and can’t connect because you’re outside the range of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage, your iPhone tries to connect you via satellite to the help that you need.”

As opposed to selecting a single smartphone manufacturer, however, Iridium’s collaboration with Qualcomm ensures that satellite services can be brought to a variety of smartphone brands including Android and Motorola devices that feature Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Satellite platform.

Emergency messaging using Snapdragon Satellite is expected to debut starting in the second half of this year in “premium Android smartphones” launched in select regions, said Iridium. But devices that use the Snapdragon Satellite technology will also be able to send standard text messages via satellite to anyone — not just emergency responders, noted Qualcomm president and CEO Cristiano Amon in an interview with The Washington Post.

That’s the sort of functionality that will appeal to pilots. And as such, it’s fair to surmise that pilot ‘sat phone’ adoption will exponentially increase with the Snapdragon announcement.

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“While some have been expecting we would be integrating our system into a specific smartphone, what we’ve done is so much bigger,” said Desch in a 5 January statement.

“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. This supports our larger vision of connecting people and things on the move, anywhere!”

The news has certainly been welcomed by Garmin, which is already eyeing an expansion of its satellite emergency response services.

“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,” said Brad Trenkle, vice president of Garmin’s outdoor segment.

Beyond smartphones, Iridium satellite connections can enable similar applications for vehicles, and other personal consumer and IoT devices, including those being deployed in the growing UAV market.

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Featured image credited to Iridium