Qualcomm said today that it will build a chipset to offer combined cellular and satellite radios in one handset. It hopes to offer them in 2010. This is a boost for the struggling satellite companies and offers up the potential for a small phone that is integrated with existing CDMA cellular networks.
To build a successful satellite business a company needs access to spectrum, money to launch the satellites and a convenient handset at a reasonable price. During the ’90s this last hurdle was never really surmounted because handsets were big and couldn’t switch over to cell networks. It looked like that would be the case again for a new generation of satellite firms pushing a combined terrestrial and satellite network. Qualcomm’s chipsets and the willingness of cellular carriers to accept handoffs from satellite networks could change all that.
Qualcomm is working with Mobile Satellite Ventures and ICO Communications to provide chipsets for the L and S bands of spectrum. The chips will work in those bands as well as with the CDMA and CDMA2000 standards pushed by Qualcomm. The CDMA technology will limit the phone’s global reach, as GSM is more popular than CDMA outside North America. But the news adds momentum to hopes of a satellite and terrestrial network that can provide wireless broadband anywhere. Taking that momentum beyond CDMA and getting handset makers on board are the next steps.