It turns out that the next communication frontier after 5G is not 6G but satellite messaging. Apple has already launched SOS and location sharing, and T-Mobile and SpaceX are working on a more general communications system. Now British company Bullitt claims to beat them by launching “the first satellite-to-mobile messaging smartphone”.
Unlike Apple’s SOS via satellite, the system Bullitt describes would enable seamless messaging between a user connected to a satellite and one connected to a regular cellular network. Apple’s system only allows you to communicate with emergency services in two ways, and location sharing is one way.
In case you haven’t heard the name, Bullitt makes rugged phones for some well-known brands – mainly Cat phones but also devices like the Motorola Defy. These ultra-durable phones are often marketed to professionals who may need to work in the field, away from cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots. The assurance that they can always send and receive messages wherever they are will be a huge boon to Bullitt’s customer base.
This project has been in the works for 18 months in partnership with MediaTek. Earlier this year, MediaTek demonstrated an NTN modem – the Non-Terrestrial Network – by testing it in laboratory conditions. The test simulated contact with a satellite in low Earth orbit (LEO), meaning 600 km / 370 miles high, which is spinning at 27,000 km/h (17,000 mph).
Bullitt phones will be able to get a connection and send a message via satellite in about 10 seconds. It will automatically switch to satellite connection when wireless network and Wi-Fi reception is lost. Right now, details on how Messages will work are fuzzy, but the company assures it will be seamless:
“We’ve long known the answer was in the satellite, but the ‘invisible’ and seamless integration into the smartphone creates enormous technical challenges. MediaTek and Bullitt share a pioneering spirit and a history of innovation yet, nearly two years into our relationship, we stand together. At the forefront of a new era in telecommunications and the fastest, simplest way for our carrier channel partners to deliver complete peace of mind to their customers,” writes Richard Wharton, co-founder at Bullitt Group.
According to Bullitt, the first phones with two-way satellite service (and the satellite service itself) will be available in the first three months of 2023. And they’ll come with a free year of emergency messaging. There is no information on how much it will cost after that or the general communication rates.