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MediaTek chip company signs up for satellite messaging for phones

Bullitt woman on phone.jpg

A company that sells rugged phones says it is planning a device that will be able to send and receive messages via satellite.

The Bullitt Group has partnered with chip company MediaTek, to launch what it calls “the world’s first smartphone to include two-way satellite messaging technology” – though this is becoming a highly competitive market.

The phone and the satellite service will be commercially available in the first quarter of 2023, says Bullitt, with 12 months of free satellite SOS messaging.

This means it is competing with T-Mobile US, controlled by Deutsche Telekom, and SpaceX’s Starlink, which in August announced a plan for messaging from space.

That was just days after Nokia revealed itself as the cellular technology partner of wholesale satellite operator AST SpaceMobile, which is working with Globe Telecom, Vodafone and others, to develop satellite services to standard mobile phones.

Also in July, Ericsson said it was working with Qualcomm and Thales to develop satellite-based mobile phone services.

The latest entrant, Bullitt, said it and MediaTek have worked together over the last 18 months to enable the addition of direct to satellite communication in the next generation of Bullitt-designed 5G smartphones.

Bullitt specialises in making rugged phones with the Caterpillar and Motorola brands.

Bullitt co-founder Richard Wharton said: “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.”

UK-based Bullitt said it is the first to use MediaTek’s 3GPP non-terrestrial network (NTN) chipset. The project uses proprietary software and service components to provide the over-the-top (OTT) satellite messaging service.

At Taiwan-based MediaTek, corporate VP JC Hsu said: “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.”

Wharton said: “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.” He added: “Americans alone lose cell coverage for over 22 billion hours annually.”