CEO Matt Desch said the satellite operator is 'working on the details and planning' for direct-to-device in cars but added 'that's a few years away.'

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

April 21, 2023

3 Min Read
Iridium CEO touts autos as another D2D opportunity

With interest in phone-to-satellite communications at an all-time high, the CEO of satellite operator Iridium teased investors that the technology could migrate to other mobile gadgets in the future.

"We also see additional opportunities in the automotive industry as well as for applications in the government sector, and expect to eventually be relevant in other mainstream consumer devices like computers and tablets," said Iridium CEO Matt Desch during his company's quarterly conference call this week, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha.

"Satellite direct to device is an example of a technology convergence going on today between satellites and the traditional terrestrial world," Desch said. "But interest appears to be growing and I think the opportunities for satellite solutions are endless."

Figure 1: (Source: NASA) (Source: NASA)

"Direct to device" (D2D) connections promise to tie smartphones directly to satellites in a way that could completely eliminate cellular dead zones in the near future. A wide range of companies including Iridium, Globalstar, Qualcomm and AST SpaceMobile are chasing the opportunity.

Automobiles could be next

"We're working on the details and planning and discussions," Desch said in response to a question about Iridium's work with automotive companies. "And given that the technology work is largely completed at this point ... it wouldn't take long, essentially to implement the technology into automotive."

Iridium announced an agreement in January with Qualcomm to connect the smartphone chipmaker's Snapdragon chipsets to Iridium's existing constellation of satellites. And in March during the MWC trade show, Honor, Motorola, Nothing, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi said they would add satellite capabilities to their phones via Qualcomm's deal with Iridium.

Light Reading Contributing Editor Diana Blass investigates the rise of direct-to-device (D2D) satellite communications, a potential game-changer for universal connectivity.

Moreover, Qualcomm has a large and growing business around selling products and services to automobile companies.

However, Desch cautioned investors that D2D connections in automobiles may not be imminent. "I think that's a few years away," he said.

Even so, the prospect of connecting more cellular devices to satellites – devices beyond smartphones – undoubtedly comes as welcome news to the market's D2D players.

Apple's iPhone D2D agreement with satellite operator Globalstar helped ignite the opportunity, but it also set a relatively low bar for revenues from the service. Globalstar is in line to receive just a few hundred million dollars for connecting what may be millions of iPhones to its satellites.

"While high-end smartphones should drive most of the near-term revenues, Iridium sees longer-term opportunities in mid-tier smartphones and automobiles, and then eventually devices like laptops and tablets," wrote the financial analyst at Raymond James in a note to investors this week. "Compared to other competing and aspiring D2D offerings, we think Iridium is well-positioned to quickly serve this market given its global spectrum landing rights, a fully deployed L-band LEO [low Earth orbit] satellite constellation, and a long history of bringing similar technologies to market."

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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