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Bullitt and MediaTek to launch two-way satellite smartphone

Rugged Smartphone manufacturer Bullit and chip firm MediaTek have collaborated on what they say will be the world’s first smartphone capable of two-way satellite messaging.

Bullitt will be the first to use MediaTek’s 3GPP NTN (Non-Terrestrial Network) chipset which allows satellite communication, and will include a free of charge satellite SOS feature. The as yet unnamed device will launch in Q1 next year, and the firms boast that it is on the ‘edge of technical innovation, surpassing plans of other satellite communications players named in the mobile space race.’

The two firms have been beavering away together over the last 18 months to incorporate the satellite functionality into the next Bullitt smartphone, which will include proprietary software and service components for the OTT satellite messaging service. We’re told the device software is ‘intelligent’ and switches to the satellite link only when there’s no normal connections available.

“Bullitt designs and manufactures mobile phones under brand licenses from Cat (Caterpillar Inc) and Motorola,” said Richard Wharton, Co-founder at Bullitt Group. “Over 13 years, we have developed a deep understanding of our customers who, due to the nature of their lifestyle or job, often find themselves in the great outdoors and frequently on the fringes of cellular coverage. Globally, mobile phone users lose signal for tens of billions of hours each year. Americans alone lose cell coverage for over 22 billion hours annually. Loss of signal is something we have all experienced at some time. Depending on the situation, that can mean inconvenience, frustration, anxiety, lost productivity or even loss of life.”

“We have known for a long time that the answer was in satellite but an ‘invisible’ and seamless integration into a smartphone creates enormous technical challenges. MediaTek and Bullitt share a pioneering spirit and a history of innovation so now, nearly two years into our relationship, we jointly stand at the forefront of a new era in telecommunications and the quickest, simplest way for our carrier channel partners to offer total peace of mind to their customers.”

JC Hsu, General Manager of Wireless Communications Business Unit at MediaTek added: “This relationship carries on our longstanding history of innovation and leadership in the formulation of the 3GPP NTN standard, which combines cellular and satellite connectivity in the same device. In addition to the most recent mobile technology and the most sophisticated, highest-performing cellular connectivity features we have been working on, the 3GPP NTN effort advocates allowing device manufacturers access to satellite connectivity. We are very proud of having created the two-way satellite messaging technology used in this first commercially available phone and for being the pioneers in creating the ecosystem based on 3GPP NTN standards for satellite communication.”

There’s has been something of a step change in satellite comms in the last couple of years. Either the tech has got better/more reliable or it’s become more cost effective to launch the things into the heavens – either way there seem to be a lot of firms involved in the area of satellite based connectivity one way or another now, including Rakuten, OneWeb, Amazon, Lynk,  T-Mobile, SpaceX, Nokia, Eutelsat, Telefónica, Sateliot, Inmarsat, GalaxySpace, Boeing, Verizon, and Softbank.

Needing to use your phone when you are so far of the beaten track that the operators haven’t bothered to put any terrestrial connectivity infrastructure anywhere nearby is a problem – but as we’ve argued before it’s a pretty niche problem. That’s not to say there isn’t a market for devices aimed at amateur explorers getting themselves lost in jungles or up mountains and having to make a call, but is it a big enough market to support all these new services coming out, and can all the firms that have thrown their hat in the ring expect to make money from it?

 

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