Apple has unveiled its new iPhone 14 range, and while the phones mainly include the usual annual upgrades such as camera and performance improvements, this year’s iPhone models also pack in some exciting and valuable new personal safety features.
Perhaps the most interesting of these is Emergency SOS via Satellite, a new feature that allows iPhone owners from virtually anywhere in the world to call for help even when traditional cellular networks aren’t available.
While introducing the feature at the Far Out event on September 7, Apple was quick to point out that cellular coverage is constantly improving. However, business leaders admitted that it is still not difficult to find yourself in a situation where you have little or no signal, especially in remote areas where people often need emergency assistance.
How Emergency SOS via satellite works
Apple’s new satellite connectivity feature is for emergency use only. Apple didn’t make the iPhone 14 a satellite phone, and you still can’t make calls or text without traditional cellular connectivity.
In fact, Emergency SOS via satellite is a feature that you will hopefully never need to use. You’re unlikely to see settings for it on your iPhone; it stays hidden in the background until you need it.
This is also a fallback emergency system. It only activates if you have no mobile or Wi-Fi coverage at all – from any carrier. As cool and futuristic as satellite communications may sound, calling 911 over your cellular network is still a much more efficient way to get help. Furthermore, in the US and Canada, you can call 911 over any cellular network, whether you’re a subscriber to that network or not; you don’t even need an active SIM card or eSIM in your iPhone to do this.
Satellite communications are slower than traditional mobile calls and text messages because the signal has to travel a much greater distance. Apple hasn’t said which satellite network it uses, but it’s most likely the Iridium network, a constellation of 66 satellites orbiting 485 miles above the Earth’s surface at 17,000 miles per hour. Conversely, if you have cell service, you’re probably less than 10 miles from a cell tower.
In practical terms, Apple says that even in ideal conditions — with a direct view of the sky and horizon — an emergency SOS message typically takes about 15 seconds to transmit via satellite. Add some medium leaf trees to the mix and that delay can be more than a minute.
This brings up another critical point about Emergency SOS via satellite: you have to be outside to use it, with a fairly clear view of the sky and horizon. Since Apple didn’t want to add a large and bulky antenna to the iPhone, it must be pointed directly at a satellite with an unobstructed line of sight.
Emergency SOS via satellite may not work even under heavy foliage, and it certainly won’t work indoors or underground. Apple explains that hills, mountains, canyons, and tall buildings can also interfere with establishing a satellite connection.
How do I call for help via satellite in an emergency?
Fortunately, Apple has taken these delays into account. In an emergency, you want to get help as quickly as possible, and having a back-and-forth conversation isn’t efficient when each message can take a few minutes.
Of course, since you can’t see a satellite that is hundreds of miles in orbit, your iPhone will provide guidance to point your iPhone in the right direction to pick up and lock onto an emergency satellite, while also keeping your iPhone working properly. remains oriented during the emergency session.
Instead of simply opening an SMS window once you have established the emergency satellite connection, you will be asked to answer a series of multiple choice questions so that you can easily describe your situation and provide emergency services with crucial information. These replies are sent in the first message, along with your medical ID and emergency contact information, your location and altitude, and the remaining battery life of your iPhone.
Once that first aid request is sent, rescuers can ask you for more information via standard text messages, but most importantly, they have everything they need to start rescue efforts.
What do I need to use Emergency SOS via satellite?
Emergency SOS via satellite is exclusive to the iPhone 14, and the good news is that it’s available on every iPhone 14 model, from the 6.1-inch iPhone 14 to the 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Pro Max.
While a rumor last year suggested that the iPhone 13 might have the necessary hardware to support satellite communications, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Analysts found that a new 5G band was being added to the iPhone 13, and some mistakenly assumed it would be for satellite connections. The confusion stemmed from the fact that the 5G frequency, known as band 53, was licensed exclusively to Globalstar, a satellite communications company. Like most communications technology companies, however, Globalstar does more than just satellites; it also operates private terrestrial LTE and 5G networks using this band in places like the Port of Seattle and the New York Power Authority.
Emergency SOS via satellite isn’t part of the new Apple Watch models either — not even the Apple Watch Ultra. Mark Gurman shared earlier this year that Apple is working to bring this feature to the Apple Watch. However, he also added that it may not make the cut for this year’s lineup. Whether we’ll see it appear on a 2023 Apple Watch remains an open question, but given the complex technology involved, Apple probably still has some work to do to make it fit into the wearable.
Finally, iPhone 14 models sold in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao do not support Emergency SOS function via satellite. It is not entirely clear why this is the case; it could be because these models don’t support eSIM or use other cellular frequencies that interfere with satellite communications. It could also just be political – it’s probably no coincidence that Huawei announced its own satellite-powered SOS feature earlier this week, just a day before Apple’s iPhone 14 event. Huawei’s system is also powered by Beidou, China’s state-owned GPS and communications satellite network.
Where can I use Emergency SOS via satellite?
Technically, Emergency SOS via satellite should have you calling for help from anywhere in the world. The problem is that getting that help is a bit more complicated because it depends on other factors like whether the emergency services in a particular country or region are even equipped for it.
As a result, Emergency SOS via satellite will be launched exclusively in the US and Canada. This includes Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, but not Guam or American Samoa.
This refers to where Emergency SOS is physically available. It has nothing to do with where you’re from, what region your iPhone is set up in, or what carrier you normally use. International travelers visiting the US and Canada can use Emergency SOS via satellite as long as their iPhone 14 supports it; as noted earlier, those purchased in mainland China, Hong Kong or Macau are unfortunately excluded.
Apple also notes that Emergency SOS via satellite may not work in extreme northern locations — those above 62 degrees north. That area includes most of Canada’s three northern territories and much of Alaska.
Satellite Emergency SOS also only supports US English, US Spanish, and French Canadian, and only Latin characters are supported in emergency SMS messages sent via satellite.
When will Emergency SOS be available via satellite?
Please note that Emergency SOS via satellite will not be available when the iPhone 14 launches on September 16. Apple says it will require an iOS 16 software update that is expected to arrive in November 2022.
Based on Apple’s track record in the past, we may not even see it in iOS 16.1, as Apple typically launches it in October. Expect it to arrive in iOS 16.2.
How much does Emergency SOS via satellite cost?
Perhaps one of the most exciting and surprising things about Apple’s satellite communications feature is the cost; Apple offers it at no extra cost — sort of.
Technically, Apple isn’t saying it won’t charge for the service. In fact, the company implies that it may cost something in the end – it only adds two years for free “with the activation of any iPhone 14 model”.
Apple has not said what it will cost after that. It’s possible that the company hasn’t even made a decision yet, which is reasonable as it has two years to figure that out. By comparison, Garmin charges a monthly subscription fee of $15 for satellite connectivity on its inReach devices.
Either way, the good news is that you won’t have to worry about recurring charges for at least two years.
What else can I use iPhone 14 satellite communications for?
Apple uses its satellite connection for another feature that can come in handy even if you’re not in an emergency.
With the Find My app on an iPhone 14, you can now share your location via satellite, so your friends and family know where you are, even if you’re far from the network.
Unlike using your iPhone on cellular or Wi-Fi, which automatically updates your location in the background, you must manually share your location when using satellite communications. It’s not yet clear exactly how this will work or when it will be available; presumably there will be a button somewhere in the iOS 16 Find My app, but Apple hasn’t said whether this feature will be available at release or whether we’ll have to wait for the rest of the Emergency SOS via satellite capabilities to arrive in the iOS 16 update. from Nov.