World’s first satellite-to-mobile messaging smartphone will launch in 2023

Cat
Cat S53 rugged phone (Image credit: Cat)

Bullitt Group, a British company best known for manufacturing rugged phones (opens in new tab) for CAT and Motorola, and chipset giant MediaTek have announced that together they will power the world’s first satellite-to-mobile messaging smartphone, which they say will launch in the first quarter of 2023. 

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Unlike Apple’s SOS Emergency SOS via satellite on iPhone 14 (opens in new tab), the system from Bullitt and MediaTek will enable seamless messaging between the satellite user and another phone on a normal network. This is very different from Apple’s offering, which only lets users communicate with emergency services via message to dispatchers or relay centers where Apple-trained specialists will call for help on the user’s behalf.

New Non-Terrestrial Network chip

It has taken 18 months for Bullitt and MediaTek to enable the addition of direct-to-satellite communication in the next generation of Bullitt-designed 5G phone (opens in new tab)s. Bullitt is the first to use MediaTek’s 3GPP NTN (Non-Terrestrial Network) chipset and as you’d expect with such a breakthrough, proprietary software and service components have also been developed to make the OTT satellite messaging service a reality.

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“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, said JC Hsu, Corporate Vice President and General Manager of Wireless Communications Business Unit at MediaTek. 

Bullitt explains that the service is intelligent and switches to the satellite link only when no cellular or Wi-Fi connection is available. The service then kicks in and integrates with the user’s existing contacts and so provides a seamless experience communicating with a phone on a regular cellular network, but via satellite link. Impressively, the time to initially connect to the satellite and send a message is around 10 seconds – quicker than Apple’s 15 seconds (opens in new tab) in good conditions…

“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, said Richard Wharton, Co-founder at Bullitt Group. 

It's not long until the world’s first satellite-to-mobile messaging smartphone will come to market and we think it’ll be incredibly popular with Bullitt’s customer base, who are often in the great outdoors and so often on the fringes of, or without, cellular coverage. Depending on the situation, a loss of signal can simply be annoying or inconvenient, but it can in extreme conditions can lead to loss of life. The assurance that Bullitt’s new phone will always allow users to send and receive messages wherever they are, will be an absolute game changer for many.

You might also like to read about the best camera phones (opens in new tab) you can buy today, the best budget camera phone (opens in new tab) and the best burner phones (opens in new tab). 

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Rachael is a British journalist with 18 years experience in the publishing industry. Since working on www.digitalcameraworld.com (opens in new tab), she’s been freelancing, and contributing to some of the world’s best-loved websites and magazines including T3.com and TechRadar.com and has also had a book, iPad for Photographers, published. She's currently acting as editor of 5GRadar.com - a website specializing in the latest cellular technology.