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Satellite connectivity on smartphones explained: How soon will India get it? | Technology News


With the new iPhone 14, Apple has made a big deal about having satellite connectivity which lets you send SOS messages without WiFi or cell service. But how does it even work?

Basically, regular cell phones connect to towers on the ground. The closer you are to a tower, the more bars you see on your status bar and the better the service. Move too far away and you lose signal. But satellite phones beam signals up to satellites orbiting above Earth. Each satellite covers significantly more area than a single cell tower, meaning phones with satellite connectivity maintain connections better in remote places without ground towers nearby.

This is especially useful for emergencies in rural or disaster areas with limited cell infrastructure. The only catch is that satellite connectivity typically requires specialised hardware, specifically an antenna that can transmit to satellites and receive signals from them. But there’s an emerging technology that does away with the need for such hardware.

What’s 5G-NTN?

This technology is 5G NTN, which stands for 5G Non-Terrestrial Network. It lets phones tap satellites for data when they can’t reach land-based 5G towers, helping users stay connected for sending messages, GPS, and voice and video calls.

Before, satellite phones were niche devices separate from regular cellular networks. But with standards like NR-NTN that companies like MediaTek are pushing, satellite comms can be built right into 5G smartphones – there’s no need for specialised hardware anymore.

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The satellite connectivity space is heating up

Several leading smartphone brands showcased their latest advancements in satellite connectivity at Mobile World Congress 2023. This highlights how the industry is ramping up efforts to bring robust satellite communication capabilities to mainstream 5G smartphones.

MediaTek demonstrated its NR-NTN technology for two-way messaging via satellite on Android phones. It also revealed its next-generation NR-NTN for higher satellite data rates and expanded use cases. MediaTek already has commercial devices on the market integrating its satellite tech through partners like Motorola.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm announced partnerships with Honor, Motorola, Nothing, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi to enable satellite messaging on premium phones equipped with its Snapdragon Satellite platform. Qualcomm’s solution supports connections with both geosynchronous and low-earth orbit satellites.

Samsung also unveiled an Exynos chipset with built-in satellite connectivity that can power smartphones and other devices. Their chip is capable of working with multiple satellite networks.

India’s satellite connectivity ecosystem

India is a huge potential market for satellite tech in phones. With remote terrain and developing infrastructure, satellites can help extend reliable connectivity.

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Reliance Jio recently launched JioSpaceFiber, India’s first satellite broadband service promising fiber-optic like speeds. This leverages satellites to deliver reliable high-speed internet and entertainment to consumers and businesses everywhere.

Airtel has partnered with OneWeb for a joint venture called Airtel OneWeb. They already received regulatory approval to offer satellite service in India. Airtel’s chairman predicts that OneWeb will start providing coverage across all of India as soon as next month.

Between progress on 5G rollout and satellite connectivity, India is taking steps to connect even its most remote regions. However, there are still challenges around factors like spectrum allocation, data security, pricing competition, and regulations that need to be worked through as satellite-linked smartphones develop in India. But the technology could help digitally empower people across the country through enhanced connectivity.





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