Telco Titans: Bullitt fires first shot in sat-to-phone messaging battle

Service unveiled at MWC now live, enabled through tie-up with new space player Skylo Technologies.

UK mobile device seller Bullitt Group has put an early marker down in the mobile industry’s ‘space race’ by switching on two-way satellite messaging functionality for users of its“beyond rugged” smartphones.

An email to customers yesterday confirmed that the Bullitt Satellite Connect service is now live for the provider’s Cat S75 device, enabling outdoorsy types and workers in remote locations to have some basic comms options.

Bullitt collaborated on its development with chipset vendor MediaTek, device partnerMotorola, and SoftBank-backed new space startup Skylo Technologies, among others. Skylo is enabling the service through its core network, plugging into GEO-based satcomms coverage from EchoStar Corporation and Inmarsat.

In the Cat S75’s case, Bullitt Satellite Connect employs a secondary, Skylo-supplied SIM card that comes with the device, and purports to enable “seamless” switching between cellular, satellite, and Wi-Fi connectivity, according to availability. Bullitt has also flagged plans to offer it on an ‘over-the-top’ basis, via an accompanying Satellite Messenger app, as well as a specialist dongle.

Satellite Connect plans range between €4.99 (£4.41) and €29.99 per month depending on the messaging volume required, and are accompanied by an SOS Assist add-on, enabled via a tie-up with ‘critical event response’ tech specialist FocusPoint International. Here, Bullitt is going up against the emergency help feature Apple introduced on the iPhone 14 in some European countries during late-2022.

The vendor’s website indicates Satellite Connect is covering about 50 countries at launch, largely in Europe — with Canada and the USA to be added in June, and other markets, including Australia, thereafter.

This gives it what looks like a few months’ head start on other players that are prepping similar offerings. As well as Apple, as it evolves its own services, SpaceX and T-Mobile US recently announced a direct-to-cell phone collaboration and are expected to begin testing later this year, while Iridium and Qualcomm tied on a satellite messaging and emergency services offering for Snapdragon smartphones in January. The emergency bit has been mooted for launch in the second half of 2023.

Skylo, for its part, has indicated it is working with various operators including Deutsche Telekom, Indian telco BSNL, and UK virtual network group Truphone on satcomms offerings, although principally around IoT rather than messaging.

Bullitt has said it has had Bullitt Satellite Connect in the works since at least early-2021, although Co-Founder Richard Wharton suggests the vendor, which set up shop in 2009, had“always had an eye on satellite” as a useful add-on for its particular target base. Showcasing the service at Mobile World Congress, he described it as offering a “whole new level of resilience to mobile communications that other smartphones just can’t match”.

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