Samsung targets satellite-enabled smartphone chips after surprise iPhone 14 feature

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A Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra smartphone.
SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Samsung on Thursday said it has developed a system that will allow smartphone users to send data via satellite, intensifying the race among tech companies to connect phones to non-terrestrial networks.

New modem technology from the South Korean consumer electronics giant will enable two-way messaging, as well as the sharing of images and videos. The data is sent to low-Earth orbit satellites in space and sent back to Earth-based stations before reaching end users.

Samsung hasn’t yet launched its satellite capabilities. However, the firm said it plans to include the technology in its Exynos mobile processors, hinting at a move to bring the system to its Galaxy smartphones.

Samsung launched its flagship Galaxy S23 smartphone range this month without satellite connectivity.

The move comes not long after Apple announced the launch of its iPhone 14 with a feature that lets users alert the emergency services by pointing their phones at a satellite in space and choosing from a range of issues they are facing.

Satellite phones are not yet a commercially mainstream technology. However, device makers are betting on the untapped opportunity of putting satellite phones in the hands of people in remote areas that fall outside the reach of terrestrial telecoms infrastructure.

“With Samsung joining the party, emergency satellite messaging on premium smartphones is becoming a default feature,” Ben Wood, lead analyst at CCS Insight, told CNBC.

“This underlines the massive influence that Apple has on feature adoption. For new technology like this, where Apple goes, others follow.”

Following Apple’s iPhone 14 launch in September, U.S. semiconductor giant Qualcomm signed a deal with satellite communications firm Iridium to bring satellite-enabled chips to Android phones. MediaTek, the Taiwanese chipmaking firm, is expected to showcase its own mobile satellite technology at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.

Samsung said its technology was in line with 3rd Generation Partnership Project standards, meaning it will “ensure interoperability and scalability among services offered by global telecom carriers, mobile device makers and chip companies.”

The device will also “eliminate the need for a separate high-power wireless antenna chip inside smartphones,” Samsung said. Satellite phones have been in the works for decades but have not yet taken off as they typically require huge antennae integrated directly into the device.

WATCH: Apple announces Emergency SOS via Satellite at September event