Motorola Unveils Budget Friendly Satellite Comms Plans

Photo By: Motorola

We always knew this would happen. When Apple announced last year that the iPhone 14 could bounce a text message off a satellite to save your bacon if you somehow become stranded far from actual cell service, it was clear that a new era in communication had just dawned. 

Overlanders and outdoor enthusiasts have been using last-gasp SOS satellite communication tech for years with devices like the popular Garmin InReach and newcomers like Zoleo, SPOT, and Somewear, or just OG tech like super-spendy Iridium satellite phones. Cool stuff to be sure, but very, very niche. Also, the tech and messaging plans tend to be spendy for such a narrow application. It’s great tech if you are off-grid most of the time, not so much if you have even two bars of LTE, which is most places these days. And now, Apple’s iPhone SOS sat-tech has landed. 

Photo by Motorola

Not to be outdone, Motorola is moving fast and bringing satellite texting to a couple of Android phones by way of internal tech or to any Android device via a small fob and Bluetooth (and soon to iOS as well). Texting plans are as cheap as $5 per month for a limited number of not-SOS messages. Expect competition, and soon, from numerous smartphone makers and service providers who will, of course, just bake the ability to text via spacecraft right into the handsets like Apple has, and for just a couple more bucks per month on your phone bill.

Soon: Add photos. Then video. Soon: There will be no barrier to texting, emailing, video chatting, social media, and gaming with anyone anywhere in the world, no matter where they are, as long as they can see the sky because that’s what the market will demand and numerous companies will gladly fill the sky with inexpensive Low Earth Orbit satellites to provide that service, which will get better, faster and cheaper as time goes on.

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But back to the present and to Motorola, which has teamed with the Brits at Bullitt Group (no relation to the Steve McQueen movie) to offer the tech in upcoming ruggedized phones or via a small Bluetooth fob and its Bullitt Satellite Connect app. 

Data/texting plans range from a fiver to send 30 messages per month to $30 for 400 texts per month. I am old enough to remember when my $50 cell phone plan included a generous 30 minutes of talk time. Per. Month. We know how this will shake out. Also, if you have a satellite-capable phone or fob but no plan, you still have a plan of sorts, as Bullitt is providing a free year of actual SOS texts to an emergency response center. FYI: Running out of beer unexpectedly at your very remote location does not qualify for an SOS response.

Caveat: The person you are texting with must also be using the Bullitt Satellite Connect app and have the tech to text back via satellite – for now. And there’s this from Bullitt via Android Authority: at present, “the tech only supports text and emojis for now, but the company [Bullitt Group] told Android Authority that images, audio, and video support would be implemented as the technology progresses.” 

Photo by Motorola

I recently got a taste of this future while motorcycling off-road in the Colorado Rockies. After setting up my tent at a very remote and high-altitude campground, I wandered the grounds and came across a guy texting on his smartphone. We were nowhere near any cell service, but he had a small Starlink antenna on top of his 4X4 Sprinter camper and was kind enough to let me log in as a guest. I was amazed to see that the data rate was fast enough to stream Netflix. I FaceTimed with my family. I sent out some photos to an editor. The Starlink service cost the guy about $100 per month, but it was the only internet service he used. It was small, simple, and fully mobile. My paradigm shifted so quickly that it was almost painful. If I were him, would I be doing the same thing? Absolutely. Wouldn’t it be cool if all I needed was my phone? Even better.

Now add quickly evolving technology and corporate competition, and multiply that by the number of smartphones in the world. With that equation in mind, it appears it will soon be harder to “be unreachable” than ever before. 

Photo by Brett Willhelm

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