iPhone-Like Emergency Texts via Satellite Coming to Android in 2023

The feature is coming only to phones with the latest premium Snapdragon chips from Qualcomm.

David Lumb Mobile Reporter
David Lumb is a mobile reporter covering how on-the-go gadgets like phones, tablets and smartwatches change our lives. Over the last decade, he's reviewed phones for TechRadar as well as covered tech, gaming, and culture for Engadget, Popular Mechanics, NBC Asian America, Increment, Fast Company and others. As a true Californian, he lives for coffee, beaches and burritos.
Expertise Smartphones | Smartwatches | Tablets | Telecom industry | Mobile semiconductors | Mobile gaming
David Lumb
3 min read
A phone with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip logo on its screen, held in front of a nighttime city landscape.

Snapdragon Satellite will come on devices with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 system on a chip.  


One of Apple's most significant perks on the iPhone 14 lets you send emergency texts using satellites when you're outside the range of your mobile network. Later this year, Android phones will get a similar capability to relay texts virtually anywhere on Earth through satellites orbiting the planet.

At CES 2023, Qualcomm debuted Snapdragon Satellite, a service that uses orbital communication company Iridium's constellation of 66 satellites to relay emergency texts and data and eventually non-emergency two-way texting. While this keeps Android phones on par with iPhone's advances or beyond, given Iridium's global coverage area compared with the GlobalStar satellite coverage used for Apple's emergency texting, it also ushers in an era in which emergency communications don't stop at the edge of mobile networks.

Read more: CES 2023's Biggest Reveals

Like Apple's Emergency SOS feature, you'll simply need to angle your phone to the sky for the best chance of linking up with a satellite to send your emergency message, there's even an aiming reticle in the Snapdragon Satellite interface to line up your device. If you can't snag one, you can just try again in eight to 12 minutes when the satellites -- which orbit the planet at around Mach 20 -- come around again, Qualcomm said. 

Qualcomm went with satellite communications provider Iridium for its Snapdragon Satellite feature.


Snapdragon Satellite, set for release in the second half of 2023, will come on devices with the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 system on a chip and the Snapdragon X70 modem, which was introduced at MWC 2022. For now, only devices with both pieces of hardware will have the feature, which will likely be the top-end phones coming out this year.

Qualcomm may trickle the feature down to devices with lower-end chips but has no definitive plans to do so right now.

Qualcomm hasn't outlined all the details yet, as plenty depends on how phonemakers want to implement Snapdragon Satellite. It's up to manufacturers whether to charge anything for the Snapdragon Satellite service. For comparison, Apple has committed to two years of Emergency SOS for free.

Beyond supporting emergency texting, Qualcomm has plans to offer a premium service to let you use the satellites to send data or texts for more social purposes -- like bragging about sailing your yacht, Snapdragon Vice President Francesco Grilli joked. Qualcomm didn't reveal how much that service would cost. 

Whatever way people use them, Iridium thinks its constellation of satellites can handle the load of messages. "We're quite confident that our capacity is more than enough for this service," Iridium Chief Technical Officer Greg Pelton said.

There are limits to the Iridium satellites, which were launched 25 years ago, and their GSM-like signal system is closer to 2G than 5G, Grilli said. That means you won't be able to use Snapdragon Satellite for voice calls unless Iridium sends up newer satellites. But with a 50-year lifespan on the satellites, Qualcomm is confident that Iridium's constellation has decades of life ahead of it to relay texts.

Qualcomm went with Iridium for its constellation's proven ability rather than go with a company that hasn't been operational for as long, the company said.

Apple uses Globalstar's network of 24 satellites (with 17 more on the way) for its Emergency SOS service. T-Mobile has partnered with SpaceX to use its existing Starlink cluster of microsatellites for out-of-network emergency texting. 

Verizon is working with Amazon's Project Kuiper, which aims to use a microsatellite cluster like Starlink for emergency messaging and potentially to supplement its 4G and 5G mobile network, though to date Amazon hasn't launched any of the 3,236 microsatellites it plans to put into Earth's orbit.

Though AT&T had partnered with satellite communications company OneWeb for limited business connections, last fall the carrier signed its own agreement with AST SpaceMobile to augment its mobile network and help regular customers connect via satellite. 

It's unclear how Qualcomm's efforts will integrate with the other satellite offerings, and there's still plenty for the chipmaker to figure out on its own end. Unlike Apple, which can set its own terms for iPhones, Qualcomm now has to go to phone manufacturers using Snapdragon chips and see how they want to implement Snapdragon Satellite. 

Correction, 2:45 p.m. PT: Updated to clarify that there is no pricing set for Snapdragon Satellite, which will be up to phone manufacturers.