Samsung has joined the race to enable 2-way communication over satellite on smartphones. The upcoming Exynos Modem 5300 will allow users in very remote areas (or in disaster areas where utilities have been disabled) to communicate with the world using 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN).
The new modem implements the standard 3GPP Release 17 to ensure interoperability with emerging telecom networks and the hardware and software developed by smartphone makers.
Here is an illustration of how NTN communication works. Your smartphone can send a message to a satellite (and “other non-terrestrial vehicles”), which then bounce the message down to a ground station, which in turn relays the message to the regular cell network for other users to receive.
This is 2-way communication, so messages can flow the other way too. And it’s not just text either, in the future users will be able to send high resolution photos and videos over satellite.
This will be adopted for smartphones, of course, but Samsung also sees uses in “urban air mobility” vehicles such as flying cars and unmanned aircraft. You don’t want those losing connectivity mid-flight.
Anyway, Samsung also says that it is working on NarrowBand Internet of Things tech (NB-IoT), which will remove the need for a separate high-powered antenna chip inside phones.
“Samsung aims to take the lead in advancing hybrid terrestrial-NTN communications ecosystems around the world in preparation for the arrival of 6G,” said Min Goo Kim, Executive Vice President of Communication Processor Development at Samsung Electronics. Samsung has been working on 6G for years now and the South Korean government wants prototype 6G networks to be ready in 2026.
As for the here and now, this January Qualcomm announced Snapdragon Satellite, which also aims to enable 2-way messaging over satellite for smartphones. We should start seeing the first such devices in the second half of this year. Qualcomm is also behind Apple’s satellite tech, by the way.