How to use Emergency SOS via satellite on iPhone 14

Apple has made a demo mode so iPhone 14 users in the US and Canada can try out satellite calling on their smartphone today. It's slated to be available in Germany, France, Ireland and the UK in December.

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Apple’s spending lots of money to ensure you never get lost and can always share where you are with a tool called Emergency SOS via satellite, available in iOS 16.1 and iPhone 14 or later.

What is Emergency SOS via satellite on iPhone 14?

Available only in the US and Canada at the moment, it will arrive for users in France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK starting next month. The feature lets iPhone 14 users connect with emergency services when cellular and Wi-Fi coverage aren’t available.

It also supports FindMy location tracking when off the grid. Users can share their location with others using the FindMy app.

Emergency SOS via satellite relies on a growing constellation of satellites that belong to Globalstar. We know that Apple has made big investments with the satellite firm to power up this feature, almost half a billion dollars to date.

How Emergency SOS via satellite works

The service uses spectrum in the L and S bands specially designated for mobile satellite services by ITU Radio Regulations. It also uses custom-designed components within the hardware.

When an iPhone user makes an Emergency SOS via satellite request, the message is received by one of Globalstar's 24 satellites in low-earth orbit traveling at speeds of approximately 16,000 mph.

The satellite sends the message to ground stations located at key points all over the world and it is then routed to emergency services who can send help, or to a relay center with Apple-trained emergency specialists (if the closest emergency services location is not able to receive text messages).

“The launch of Emergency SOS via satellite direct to iPhone is a generational advancement in satellite communications, and we are proud that Globalstar's satellites and spectrum assets will play a central role in saving lives," said Jay Monroe, Globalstar's executive chairman. 

How to use Emergency SOS via satellite

When you are unable to get cellular or Wi-Fi network access, the option to use Emergency Text via satellite will appear when you try to contact emergency services. The system works via a simple interface that runs  you through a short questionnaire to get information about you and your emergency. This information is then shared via pre-built messages to despatchers who use it to get help. Apple says it worked with experts to identify the most common crises people request help for.

  • The message creation process begins with a screen listing the following emergency situations: Car or vehicle issue, sickness or injury, crime, lost/trapped, fire.
  • Subsequent questions will ask if the emergency affects you, someone else, or multiple people — and whether anyone is injured.
  • You’ll also be asked to describe the emergency — you might be stranded, trapped, lost ordealing with something else — and what kind of terrain you're in, such as being trapped inside a cave (though if you are in a cave, it probably won't wor)k.
  • Apple warns that if you're under heavy foliage or surrounded by obstructions the feature may not work.

The message created will include:

  • Your answers to the questions;
  • Location, including altitude;
  • Battery level;
  • Medical ID.

Once you’ve answered the questions, the iPhone will connect and send the help request. At this point, a graphic will appear on your device to help you connect to the satellite. It will try to show you which direction to point your phone and help you find a better position from which to gain the connection.

The system will also handle any follow up questions.

Apple says transmitting messages via satellite can take as little as 15 seconds, but in practice, it will be longer, and given you are likely in a crisis, you probably will have other concerns at that time than whether the message uploads swiftly.

The message transcript can also be shared with your emergency contacts.

What if you're injured?

Apple says the emergency system will also work with other safety features on the iPhone, such as Crash Detection and Fall Detection.

How can I test the feature?

Good news. If you already use an iPhone 14 and happen to be in the US or Canada, you can test Emergency SOS via satellite without alerting emergency services; Apple has built a demo of the system into the iPhone. This will connect to a real satellite to show you how the process works, though no message will be shared.

What’s the cost of the service?

Apple says Emergency SOS via Satellite will be available free for two years starting when you activate a new iPhone 14 series device. This implies the solution will become a fee-based service at some point, though I imagine with additional features.

Emergency SOS via satellite isn't offered on iPhone models purchased in China mainland, Hong Kong, or Macao. It isn't available in Guam or American Samoa and may not work in places above 62° latitude, such as northern parts of Canada and Alaska.

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