Samsung joins the satellite-to-smartphone set

  • Non-terrestrial network technology is set to play a major role in future wireless communications services
  • Satellite connectivity for broadband and mobile connectivity in remote areas is already having an impact on the industry
  • Samsung says it has developed a standards-based modem for satellite-to-smartphone connectivity
  • Apple is already a step ahead

The past year has witnessed a slew of announcements and developments focused on using non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) – mainly, but not limited to, satellites – to enable mobile connectivity to regular smartphones in areas that cannot be reached by terrestrial cellular infrastructure – the partnership between T-Mobile US and Elon Musk’s SpaceX/Starlink is just one example. Now Samsung has taken a significant step forward in this sector with the development of standardised NTN modem technology that enables 5G connections between satellites and smartphones. 

Samsung, which is one of the world’s largest communications chip developers, says it will integrate the technology into its Exynos modem that is used in most Samsung smartphones and other devices, claiming the move will accelerate the “commercialisation of 5G satellite communications” while “paving the way for the 6G-driven internet of everything (IoE) era.”

To enable reliable connectivity with low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, the vendor has developed and simulated 5G NTN standard-based satellite technology using its Exynos Modem 5300 reference platform “to accurately predict satellite locations and minimise frequency offsets caused by the Doppler shift” and thus “support two-way text messaging as well as high-definition image and video sharing.” 

What’s important here is that this is standards based – specifically, it is based on the 5G NTN standards as defined in Release 17 from the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP Release 17). That will “help ensure interoperability and scalability among services offered by global telecom carriers, mobile device makers and chip companies,” noted the vendor in this announcement

“Samsung aims to take the lead in advancing hybrid terrestrial-NTN communications ecosystems around the world in preparation for the arrival of 6G,” noted Min Goo Kim, executive VP of communication processor development at Samsung Electronics. 

That’s as may be, but Apple is already capturing hearts and minds with its integration of satellite connectivity in all iPhone 14 models available in the US, France, Germany, Ireland and the UK. “Available on all iPhone 14 models, the innovative technology enables users to message with emergency services while outside of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage. Additionally, if users want to reassure friends and family of their whereabouts while travelling in an area with no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage, they can now open the Find My app and share their location via satellite,” noted Apple in this announcement.

And in early January, Qualcomm unveiled Snapdragon Satellite, a solution that, in partnership with low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite operator Iridium, will “provide global connectivity using mobile messaging from around the world, starting with devices based on the flagship Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform.”  

Other companies keen to promote satellite-to-smartphone connectivity include British device manufacturer Bullitt and AST SpaceMobile, which has been striking multiple deals with mobile operators, most recently in Brazil where it has teamed up with TIM Brasil, part of the Telecom Italia empire, and in Saudi Arabia, where it has announced a collaboration with Zain KSA

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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