Apple’s satellite emergency service launches in the US and Canada

As previously promised, Apple’s Emergency SOS-via-satellite service launched in the US and Canada on Tuesday. The service allows owners of Apple’s newest iPhones to contact emergency services or share their location and status with emergency contacts via satellite when they are in a place where standard cellular services are not available.

Emergency SOS via satellite works on all of Apple’s most recent flagship iPhone models: iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Support for it was added in a recent iOS update, so no additional downloads are necessary.

When you initiate Emergency SOS via satellite, you’ll be presented with a multiple-choice questionnaire that attempts to glean critical information about your situation.

Once you fill it out, you’ll go through a guided process for orienting the phone to send the message to the satellite. Information included in the message includes your questionnaire responses, your location (including altitude), your iPhone’s current battery charge, and your Medical ID if you have that enabled. You can also share a transcript with your emergency contacts.

The feature doesn’t support voice calls, since voice calls aren’t practical with the satellites being used or in all situations. According to Apple’s blog post on the topic:

Apple designed and built custom components and software that allow iPhone 14 to connect to a satellite’s unique frequencies without a bulky antenna. A text compression algorithm was also developed to reduce the average size of messages by 300 percent, making the experience as fast as possible. With Emergency SOS via satellite, users can send and receive messages in as little as 15 seconds in clear conditions.

Emergency SOS via satellite “utilizes the spectrum in L and S bands specially designated for mobile satellite services by ITU Radio Regulations,” according to Apple. It is sent to one of 24 satellites operated by a US-based company called Globalstar, which also operates numerous ground stations.

The message will be relayed either to a nearby emergency call center called a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) or, if the best response location is not equipped to handle text messages, to “Apple-trained emergency specialists” who will relay the message.

You can also test satellite connectivity without actually contacting emergency services as a preparatory measure. The satellite network can also be used to share your location with a contact via the Find My app.

Emergency SOS via satellite is free for two years after you activate your new iPhone, but it will cost money after that time. Apple published a detailed support document on how to use the feature.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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