Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) Connectivity: Huawei’s First Smartphone to Support Satellite Calls—More on the Horizon?

Subscribe To Download This Insight

By Victor Xu | 3Q 2023 | IN-7062

On August 29, 2023, Huawei announced the Mate 60 Pro, its latest flagship and its inaugural smartphone to offer satellite call functionality. This ABI Insight provides a brief overview of Satellite Communication (SatCom) with consumer smartphones, as well as the potential outlook of SatCom with consumer smartphones.

Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.

Log in or register to unlock this Insight.


Huawei Mate 60 Pro: The World's First Satellite-Calling Consumer Smartphone


Huawei unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, the Mate 60 Pro, on August 29, 2023. This consumer device is a major milestone as it is the world's first consumer smartphone to feature satellite-calling capabilities. Powered by China's Tiantong-1 communications satellite system, this development marks a significant step in integrating SatCom into the mass consumer smartphone market. With the Huawei Mate 60 Pro, users can now make and receive direct calls with other smartphones via a satellite in Earth's orbit, without relying on any mobile signal.

The Emerging Trend of SatCom with Consumer Smartphones


SatCom integration into consumer smartphones has seen rapid growth, especially after The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release-17, leading to important partnerships and product launches. Companies like Apple, Huawei, ZTE, Qualcomm, Motorola, and others have entered this communications sector. Huawei and Apple introduced their respective first satellite-capable smartphones in September 2022 (refer to ABI Insight, “Non-Terrestrial Network Connectivity Promises to Expand the Market Opportunity for Satcoms”), followed by ZTE, Motorola, and Qualcomm with their Systems-on-Chip (SoCs) (refer to ABI Insight, “Qualcomm: The Age of Satellite-Enabled Smartphones Drawing Near with Space-Based Phones Set to Enter the Mass-Market”) in 2023. However, these developments have been limited to satellite text-based messaging applications thus far.

Huawei's achievement in enabling two-way voice calls through satellite-to-mobile connections on the Huawei Mate 60 Pro smartphone represents a major leap in satellite-to-mobile communication technology. This technological advancement is significant for the SatCom field.

How Satellite Calling Works on the Huawei Mate 60 Pro

Previously, satellite calling technology has been exclusive to dedicated satellite phones, often referred to as "satphones," which are devices designed for explorers and off-the-grid professionals. The Mate 60 Pro is the first consumer smartphone to introduce the satellite-calling feature to the mass consumer market. This feature allows users to make two-way voice calls using satellite-to-mobile connections, which is a significant advancement in the field of SatCom technology.

The satellite-calling feature on the Mate 60 Pro is facilitated by China's Tiantong-1 communications satellite system. Tiantong-1 is China's first self-developed mobile communications satellite system, consisting of three geostationary satellites. This satellite system began providing SatCom services to the public in January 2020 and offers full coverage over the Asia-Pacific region. It provides voice calling, Short-Message Services (SMS), data transmission, and video transmission for users in the covered region. Previously, Huawei had introduced satellite-texting technology in the Mate 50 series, which only allowed one-way SMS messaging (from handset to the satellite); subsequently, the P60 series, Mate X3, and the Nova 11 Ultra released in early 2023 featured unique bi-directional satellite messaging. The Mate 60 Pro now takes this a step further by enabling two-way SMS messaging and satellite calls without signal coverage restrictions. Huawei's previous smartphones, the Mate 50, P60, Mate X3, and Nova 11 Ultra, used China's BeiDou navigation satellite, which is a key distinction from the new Mate 60 Pro.

China Telecom is the sole operator of the mobile services for the Tiantong system. Currently, satellite calling on the Huawei Mate 60 Pro is only accessible to users with China Telecom SIM cards, and the service must be requested through the Chinese provider's app. Two monthly plans are on offer: one with 80 minutes of satellite calls for US$14 (RMB100) and another with 200 minutes for US$27 (RMB$200). It is worth noting that the Mate 60 series is only available in China, starting at US$960 (RMB 6,999).

The Future of SatCom with Consumer Smartphones


Convergence of Satellite Technology and Cellular Smartphones—a Lucrative Business Opportunity: SatCom with consumer smartphones (Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) mobile) are poised for increased popularity driven by factors like broader coverage, emergency connectivity, global accessibility, digital inclusion, and more. The NTN mobile market is on a growth trajectory, and it is expected to achieve a substantial Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 59% from 2024 to 2031. This growth potential could result in a market value of up to US$18 billion and approximately 200 million connections by 2031. (see ABI Research’s The Role of Satellite in 5G: Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTN) Mobile report (AN-5515) and SatCom Constellations: Deployments & Subscriptions market data (MD-SATCC-102).

Increased Market Demand for SatCom: The addition of the satellite calling feature to the Mate 60 Pro has significantly simplified and made satellite services more economical for users. When contrasted with conventional SatCom terminals, Mate 60 Pro users can now access satellite calling services at a considerably lower cost. This enhanced accessibility is anticipated to stimulate the demand for SatCom in the market, consequently fueling the expansion of satellite technology and generating increased revenue within the industry.

Google Satellite SOS and the Next-Gen Satellite iPhones: In August 2023, reports indicated that Google seems to be actively working on a satellite-based SOS messaging feature for Google Messages. This feature would enable users to send text messages to emergency services, even in remote areas devoid of conventional cellular signals. As identified by a developer, the preliminary code within the Google Messages app does indicates ongoing efforts to integrate with Garmin and its emergency service, Garmin Response. Additionally, Google seems to be in the initial phases of developing a user interface for interacting with emergency responders. Also, it is worth noting that nearly a year had passed since Apple introduced the iPhone 14, which featured Emergency SOS via satellite in September 2022. Apple will soon be launching its latest iPhone 15 models on September 12, 2023. And Apple does seems to be all geared up to enhance its satellite-enabled iPhones with SpaceX entering into a US$64 million partnership with Globalstar (Apple’s satellite partner) to launch Apple-backed satellites in 2025 to replenish its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) connectivity constellation. Globalstar’s partnership with SpaceX looks set to boost the effectiveness and reliability of Apple’s satellite service, which could potentially make SatCom a standard feature in smartphones worldwide.