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.