Enlarge / Motorola supplies two major hardware satellite link hardware to the US.
The launch of the iPhone 14 made satellite news the hot new feature in smartphones. You can get big, bulky, ugly satellite phones with full satellite calling and messaging for years, but turns out you can connect to one if you limit the feature to just “Emergency SOS” and heavily compress everything satellite from a normal smartphone form factor. Ever since the iPhone announcement, everyone in Android land has been eager to copy that, and we’ve seen satellite connectivity announcements from Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek and Huawei, as well as news that some sort of satellite support will be built into Android 14. Mostly these are chip and software announcements – until now, not many companies have talked about satellite products that end users can actually buy.
Bullitt — a British phone maker best known for licensing heavy equipment brand “Caterpillar” for rugged smartphones — is launching what sounds like a full end-to-end solution, bringing satellite news to non-iPhone users makes available. It launches the Bullitt Satellite Connect service, an app called Bullitt Satellite Messenger to connect to it, and a satellite-connected Cat S75 smartphone. It is partnering with Motorola to introduce a second satellite messaging phone, the Motorola Defy 2, and a satellite messaging hotspot called the Motorola Defy Satellite Link. There’s a lot to do.
The App and the Service
Enlarge / Satellite Service Prices.
Service comes first. Unlike the iPhone, which can only contact emergency services one-way via satellite, Bullitt Satellite Connect claims to be a two-way messaging service and “the world’s most advanced mobile satellite messaging platform.” The satellite service starts at $4.99 per month, with “other flexible and stronger usage plans” available if you want to be a serious satellite copywriter. “SOS Assist,” which provides “24/7 access to emergency response centers provided by FocusPoint International,” is included in the price of every plan and is free for the first year, even if you only buy the hardware.
Enlarge / The Bullitt Satellite Messenger App. Both the message sender and the message recipient must have this installed.
It doesn’t sound like sending text messages through Bullitt Satellite Connect will be entirely seamless. You must use the dedicated Bullitt Satellite Messenger app to send a message via satellite and the message is not SMS. Like some other proprietary messaging services, Bullitt forwards your message via SMS to your recipient’s phone number so they receive it. However, in order to reply, the person you are messaging must download the Bullitt Satellite Messenger app. The company notes, “The time to first connect to the satellite and send a message is about 10 seconds.”
A question to ask with any satellite service is where its service is coming from, because there aren’t that many satellites out there. Bullitt certainly doesn’t have satellites for its “Satellite Connect” service. The company says it’s partnering with another company called Skylo to get the service up and running, but Skylo only runs the network and doesn’t have any satellites either. The press release states that Skylo “manages connections to devices via existing licensed GEO satellite constellations such as Inmarsat and others.” Here we go – Inmarsat is a real satellite company that has been around since the 1970s. Inmarsat currently has 14 satellites in geostationary orbit – meaning they are much higher than the new wave of satellites in low Earth orbit – at 22,300 miles. Inmarsat’s most recent launch was with Space X last week, and the company currently provides internet access for planes and boats.