Apple Satellite Emergency Service launched in the United States and Canada

As previously promised, Apple’s emergency SOS satellite service was launched in the United States and Canada on Tuesday. The service allows owners of Apple’s latest iPhones to call emergency services or share their location and status with emergency satellite contacts when they are in a location where standard cellular services are not available.

Emergency SOS works via satellite on Apple’s latest 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 required.

When the Satellite SOS Emergency begins, you will be presented with a multiple-choice questionnaire that attempts to gather important information about your condition.

Once filled out, you will go through a guided process of instructing the phone to send the message to the satellite. Information included in the message includes your answers to the questionnaire, your location (including elevation), current iPhone battery charge, and your Medical ID if you enable this. You can also share a copy with your emergency contacts.

The feature does not support voice calls, as voice calls are not practical with satellite use or in all situations. According to an Apple blog on the subject:

Apple designed and built custom hardware and software that allows iPhone 14 to communicate on the unique frequencies of satellite without a bulky antenna. A text compression algorithm has also been developed to reduce the average message size by 300 percent, making the experience as fast as possible. With Emergency SOS via satellite, users can send and receive messages in less than 15 seconds in clear conditions.

Emergency SOS via satellite “uses spectrum in the L and S bands that are specifically designed for mobile satellite services by the 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 several ground stations.

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

You can also ping the satellite without actually calling the 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 has published a detailed support document on how to use the feature.

Listing image by Samuel Axon

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