Mediatek chips will power satellite texting in Oz

MediaTek says its new microprocessors are up to the job of enabling everyday smartphones to stream to geostationary satellites 36,000km above the earth.

MediaTek’s new processor is poised to be installed in millions of new Android smartphones, adding satellite texting capability to regular handsets.

Speaking with ChannelNews, MediaTek vice president Finbarr Moynihan (pictured below) said an updated version of the chip under development would let smartphone users make satellite video calls from anywhere on the planet within 2-3 years. Satellite messaging, data and video calls will become a regular part of smartphone capability.

Two Android handsets with satellite texting capability, one with Bullitt’s Caterpillar branding and the other a Motorola branded handset, are expected in Australia this year. They are being made UK handset maker Bullitt and will cost roughly $900.

Alternatively, users can buy a Motorola branded palm-sized Bluetooth dongle that brings two-way satellite texting to regular iPhones and Android devices. It will cost roughly $150.

Plans start at about $7.50 which allow 30 text messages monthly, each with a 140 character limit.

Mr Moynihan said MediaTek had worked with 3GPP to ensure its bidirectional satellite messaging complied with international standards.

But why use geostationary satellites at 36,000km above the surface, not low-orbiting (LEO) satellites at 200-600 km that require less power for phones to connect to?

Mr Moynihan said the ability of these phones to connect to geostationary satellites was due partly to the lower frequency of communications used, which also allowed the radio and antennas to be mounted inside devices. Lower frequencies increased the range.

The chips also offered improved signal processing. Communications had to compensate for the Doppler effect, which impacts frequencies between objects travelling at different speeds.

Mr Moynihan said global texting needed fewer geostationary satellites to cover the globe, and their slower movement across the sky meant they were easier to maintain a connection to. The disadvantage was lower bit rates.

He said MediaTek would use LEO satellites for coming voice data and video calls. The video satellite capability would hit the consumer market in 2-3 years.

Australia shapes as a prime market for regular smartphones with satellite connectivity given the vast regions without ground-based communications.

Samsung and Qualcomm are gearing to offer a similar capability and Ericsson as well as MediaTek demonstrated smartphone satellite video calling at the Mobile World Congress at Barcelona.

MediaTek and Bullitt are shaping to be first-in-market with current rollouts in the US, UK and Europe.

Apple is expected to bring its SOS emergency call service to Australia this year but it doesn’t offer regular two-way texting.

Bringing satellite texting and eventually audio and video calls to the masses is a global movement, with US telcos AT&T and T-Mobile forging deals with satellite vendors AST SpaceMobile and Elon Musk’s Starlink respectively in the US last year.

In its paper on “the sky economy”, Accenture predicted more than 15,000 active satellites would orbit the earth by 2026.

MediaTek employs around 20,000 staff globally with revenue of $US18.6bn in 2022.

Published by Channel News Australia.

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