Last week, SpaceX and American telecoms company T-Mobile announced that they would start working on providing satellite connectivity to smartphones. Google recently announced that from Android 14 onwards, this feature would be open to all devices, provided they have the partnerships that would enable satellite connectivity in place.
This morning, this development came from Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s Senior Vice President of Platforms & Ecosystems. They recounted how it “was a stretch to get 3G + Wifi working” on the first shipping Android phone back in 2008.
The Android team is now “designing for satellites,” This support is planned for the “next version of Android,” which Google confirmed to us as Android 14. That OS release should arrive in mid-to-late-2023.
Wild to think about user experiences for phones that can connect to satellites. When we launched G1 in ’08 it was a stretch to get 3G + Wifi working. Now we’re designing for satellites. Cool! Excited to support our partners in enabling all of this in the next version of Android!
— Hiroshi Lockheimer (@lockheimer) September 1, 2022
Lockheimer alludes to how the user experiences for phones connecting to satellites will be different from regular LTE and 5G connections. Users should expect speeds, connectivity, and even interaction time to be different, as there will be just two to four megabits of bandwidth per cellular zone, Space Explored noted last week. Given the bandwidth available, Elon Musk said that satellite connectivity could support one to two thousand simultaneous voice calls or hundreds of thousands of text messages that could be sent, depending on the length of the text message.
Satellite connectivity on phones primarily aims at emergencies and eliminating cellular dead zones. T-Mobile plans to support text messaging, MMS, and a few popular messaging apps. The carrier said it would need to cooperate with partners to separate messaging traffic from all other data traffic.
SpaceX & Tesla are yet to start working on the tech that will enable this and will do so over the coming months. In the long-term, it will see about supporting data and voice. The initial beta availability of this service will be around late 2023.
Existing iPhone and Android devices today will be supported, but the experience, especially the end-user one, should benefit from additional OS-level support. Meanwhile, T-Mobile and SpaceX encourage other carriers to adopt reciprocal roaming and spectrum sharing. It makes sense for Android to provide native support as adoption increases.