Qualcomm Intros Snapdragon Satellite, First Satellite-Based Solution Capable of Two-Way Messaging for Smartphones
by Daniel Newman | January 10, 2023

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series, Futurum principal analyst Daniel Newman is at CES 2023 and joined by Durga Malladi, Qualcomm’s Senior Vice President and General Manager of Modem and Infrastructure at Qualcomm.

In our conversation, we discussed the following:

  • The company’s introduction of Snapdragon Satellite, the first satellite-based solution capable of two-way messaging for smartphones
  • Where Qualcomm is headed as they enter year four of 5G
  • Qualcomm’s diversification beyond smartphones into IoT, AI, wearables, XR, and automotive
  • and much more!

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Daniel Newman: Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast. I’m your host, Daniel Newman, principal analyst, founding partner at Futurum Research, here at CES 2023 live, no badge, took it off already for the video, but I promise you we’re here. It’s a quiet space. Excited to have this conversation today with Senior Vice President, General Manager of Modem and Infrastructure at Qualcomm, Durga Malladi. Durga, how are you doing?

Durga Malladi: Good. Nice to see you again. It’s been a while.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, it has been a little while. You weren’t at Summit.

Durga Malladi: No, I wasn’t.

Daniel Newman: I talked to you a bunch of your peers there. It was a great event. And I mean Hawaii, come on. We’re in Vegas.

Durga Malladi: Yes.

Daniel Newman: But it is good to have you back. It has been a while, but it’s been a big year for you guys. Always good to bring out. And today we’re going to talk a little bit about some announcements you have related to satellites, but give me quick rundown, it’s 2023. How was the 2022 year for you and the business you lead at Qualcomm?

Durga Malladi: Well if I just take it, first of all, thanks for having me here. There’s a lot to discuss just in terms of where things are heading as we enter year four of 5G. When we started back in 2019, a lot of the focus was on really smartphones and seeing what the expansion can be. These days we are seeing a lot more opportunities outside smartphones and actual commercial deployments based upon that. There’s 5G based fixed wireless access, there’s 5G based laptops and tablets that you can see, routers, connected cameras. We are truly beginning to see 5G expand its wings, so to speak, going into proliferating into a larger number of devices, way beyond smartphones. And as we talk about that, 5G is also expanding into new frontiers, beyond terrestrial communications.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, there’s a ton going on. Your announcements this year, like I said, even at Summit, just the evolution of Qualcomm has really been pretty impressive. For the longest time people really thought handsets. If you knew a little more, maybe you thought about handsets and licensing, if you know a little bit more. But all of a sudden the way the company’s really spread its wings into IOT, into wearables, into XR, into automotive, had a great year in automotive and you’ll see a lot of that here. And obviously all of that is influenced by 5G. So what you’re doing, the work you’re doing, is really sort of becoming almost the hub and spoke to all these different innovations and all this growth that Qualcomm’s having.

Durga Malladi: From Qualcomm’s perspective, I would say that we are in the beginning of this diversification phase way beyond smartphones. And if you think about all the things that you mentioned, automotive, IOT, what we are seeing is that as Qualcomm, we are also gradually transforming from a communications company only to a communications plus processing company. That’s what we are really beginning to see across all the business units. Now, of course, underneath all of that, there is 5G that’s involved, but at the same time, this is a true expansion into all sorts of domains.

Daniel Newman: Oh yeah. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing whether it’s AI and some of the evolutions that are going on in that particular space or just these vehicles of the future. This modular smart and intelligent autonomous vehicles that you guys are helping to build. Tons of different design wins have come out of the year. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more at the press conference. And depending on when you’re watching this, you may or may not have already heard the announcements, but I’m genuinely excited. I know that it’s so much more than handsets now. But in your world there are announcements that for you, Durga that are very specific and you add a big one here today around satellites. Can you share a little bit about today or the announcements that you’re making here at CES?

Durga Malladi: Yeah, we are truly excited about this one and from Qualcomm’s perspective, for the first time we are bringing satellite-based communications into handsets. We are starting with handsets and moving forwards from there onwards. We are partnering with Iridium. Iridium is a company that has been providing commercial SATCOM services for a while. It’s a very mature constellation. It’s operational, it works, it’s truly global, providing pole to pole coverage. And they have all the expertise that they have in terms of running the constellation, making sure that works. So from Qualcomm standpoint, we announced our collaboration with Iridium on SATCOM based services, which involve a combination of emergency messages, two-way messages, and starting with handsets, but truly going beyond that as time goes by.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, it was a really interesting announcement and we’re hearing more and more about satellites. This is becoming a bit more of a thing now, first instinct, I want to ask you a little bit of a question, maybe a little challenging, but probably not for you. Why Qualcomm and not the carrier to do this? Because it puts you in a little bit of a different position now because you’re baking this into your devices, whereas a lot of these kind of satellite offerings often come more from a service provider or carrier.

Durga Malladi: I think there is a historical reason for that and that is most of the carriers usually have terrestrial spectrum. So they’re operational licenses and so on are based on terrestrial offerings. And you’ve had SATCOM satellite service providers who operate only using satellite constellations and nothing with terrestrial. When we entered the space, one of the first things we wanted to do was to make sure that we work with an existing operational constellation that’s already there. Now tomorrow things might change, some of the carriers might actually get into that space as well. But as of today, the likes of Iridium are the ones who operate a service and they have a mature constellation and that’s why we worked with them. It’s a starting point, it’s based on their existing solution and the most important thing that we wanted to do was make sure it works even in a handset, not just in IOT devices and so on. But it actually works in a handset that you and I buy today. And that was actually both a technical challenge but also an opportunity for us to see what we can do in this space.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I was actually going to ask you why Iridium, but you kind of beat me to it there. Talk a little bit about the use cases though, because there’s some of the, I can kind of immediately picture some of the emergency type of use cases. But what’s the broader sort of use case that’s driving so much interest in these types of satellite partnerships?

Durga Malladi: So, I think the first most important use case is emergency services. If you are in the middle of nowhere, you just don’t have any terrestrial coverage at all, then this is a service that allows you to have that emergency response. And this is something that’s done in a lot of domains already. There are other service providers that do that, but doing it in commercial handsets, that’s a big deal. So emergency services is an important aspect. The second thing is it’s truly global. It’s pull to pull coverage. There is no place where the coverage doesn’t exist from Iridium. So which means it’s not just about back country hiking or national parks, but it could be anywhere for that matter. Now the other thing that we focused on is two-way messaging. This is not just a ping that you’re lost in the middle of nowhere and you send it out, but actually it’s two-way messaging, it’s bidirectional.

You can actually communicate with someone out there and you get messages back. You’re able to pinpoint where your location is, probably put it on a map and move from there onwards. Now as we go into other domains, this is just a handset centric service that I was referring to, but as you go into other domains, whether it’s IOT or automotive, E call is something that is done in automotive. You are in a crash and immediately a message gets sent out whether you want to send it at that point or not. Similarly, for IOT services you might have gas pipelines which are literally in the middle of nowhere and all you need is some basic messages coming from there. These are the potential use cases we foresee into other domains beyond handsets. But we are starting with handsets first.

Daniel Newman: So, in the automotive space they’ve done the two-way for somewhat long time, I think about an on-star and those kinds of things. And that’s been satellite driven, we’ve been in a crash and someone can talk to you, stay calm, help is on the way. Obviously that’s not in all vehicles. This is one of those things were all, almost it’s seemingly all humans have a phone now. But not all humans necessarily have that kind of technology built into their vehicle. Is that probably in your imagination, the predominant immediate case where you see a lot of providers wanting to offer emergency and setting that up as part of the services?

Durga Malladi: That’s one of the things that we foresee as we move forward, the starting point is going to be handset based emergency services. But when we go into IOT and automotive, you are right. There are existing services, especially in automotive, but these days automotive space itself is changing quite a bit. As you currently mentioned, most of the vehicles have the ability to have some kind of a cellular modem inside it. So it brings in a different way of doing things.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. So do you think just because, I know you’re, you mentioned IOT, you mentioned automotive. Does this become pervasive in all connected devices in time and do you see it that way as…

Durga Malladi: We see the services gradually going into wherever you don’t have any terrestrial coverage, once you get into that domain, there is no reason to stop parcels, just enhance it. So that is a place where when you’re out of terrestrial coverage, then we rely upon SATCOM based services to do the bidirectional messaging.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. Well it’s really interesting to hear all about this. I know CES is a really busy show and a busy event and we got to keep moving. For me, I’ll say my number one thing I’m excited about here at the event, is seeing the pervasiveness of AI. Because we’ve heard about that for a while. But what you’re doing is so practical and pragmatic is, anyone that’s ever been somewhere though and they’re like, “How in the world in this current era, am I in a spot and I cannot get a signal out if I was attacked by a bear, if something happened to me, I could not get out.” So you’re solving a massive problem, Durga, and I think that while, because it’s so pragmatic, you’re not a hologram or you’re not a metaverse thing. But I think for everyone out there, they should be really happy to see a company like Qualcomm working with Iridium working of course, and eventually with your partners and handset developers to offer this across the portfolio. So congratulations on the offer.

Durga Malladi: Thank you. Thanks very much.

Daniel Newman: Alright, well Durga, thanks for joining me here on the Futurum Tech Podcast and I’m sure I’m going to have you back in the next year.

Durga Malladi: Always a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Daniel Newman: Alright everybody, you heard it here. Durga Malladi, here at CES 2023. It’s a fast moving show. Even getting 10 minutes here with him was a great opportunity. What we talked about here today will continue to be a really important topic. The way we keep the world connected starts with a lot of handsets, but as you heard here, it’s going to move from handsets to our automotive technologies as well, is to all things connected, which is where our world is heading. So for this show, for the Futurum Tech Podcast, got to say goodbye. Thanks for tuning in. Hit that subscribe button, check out all our videos for more, from here at CES 2023 and all the great interviews that we do on the Futurum Tech Podcast. Anyhow, got to go. See you all later. Bye now.

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio