Smartphones like the Motorola Defy 2 by British ruggedized handset maker Bullitt are designed to seek a GEO link if they fail to connect via cellular or Wi-Fi networks. Credit: Bullitt

TAMPA, Fla. — Inmarsat and Taiwanese chipmaker MediaTek announced plans April 12 to jointly develop technologies needed to enable more mass market devices to connect directly to the British satellite operator’s network.

The companies said they are significantly expanding a three-year partnership that culminated in February with the release of Android smartphones from ruggedized handset maker Bullitt, which is offering satellite-enabled text messages with their technology via service provider Skylo.

In addition to covering “joint technology innovation,” an Inmarsat spokesperson said the expanded partnership covers “the commercial deployment of satellite-enabled devices, for example in smartphones, [Internet of Things (IoT)] devices or cars.”

Satellite services would include two-way text messaging, emergency communications, device tracking and monitoring for devices without terrestrial network coverage.

Inmarsat does “not have a specific deadline” for when satellite-enabled devices could be commercially deployed as a result of their partnership.

“Right now, our focus is on working with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to bring these capabilities to end users,” the spokesperson said via email.

“In the case of smart phones, for example, MNOs would determine how that satellite connectivity is sold to their customers.”

The deal comes just months after Iridium unveiled chipmaker Qualcomm as the partner behind plans to connect Android smartphones and other devices to its constellation this year.

In November, Apple launched a satellite-enabled SOS service using Globalstar’s network for iPhone 14.

Unlike Iridium and Globalstar, which operate in low Earth orbit (LEO), Inmarsat’s satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) appear fixed in the sky relative to users on Earth.

Inmarsat chief commercial and digital officer Jat Brainch said this means Inmarsat can enable two-way communications without complex “aiming” of the device, although Iridium and Globalstar have a latency advantage because LEO satellites are much closer to Earth than GEO.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...