The New iPhone 14 Can Send SOS Messages Via Satellite

Global cell phone service represents the next frontier for telecommunications, and Apple just made a big move to get there first.

As many had expected, Apple announced Wednesday that the iPhone 14 will come with satellite connectivity. Apple Watch Series 8, SE, and Ultra can use the capability, too, as long as the user’s iPhone 14 is close at hand.

Called Emergency SOS, the service will allow phone owners to send SMS messages without a cellular connection. Apple knows it’s far from the only company aiming for global coverage, as Elon Musk just announced similar plans last week.

That’s most likely why Apple will offer the service free for the first two years. It’s available only to iPhone 14 owners in the U.S. and Canada, starting this November.

It was unclear at press time what exact satellites Apple will use for this new service. It does represent a threat to sat-comms emergency service providers like Garmin and SPOT.

Typically, satellite messages require an expensive device with a powerful antenna. Devices like the Garmin InReach allow for two-way text messaging and location sharing but require an expensive monthly subscription.

With the iPhone 14, Apple took a different approach.

iphone 14

Photo: Apple


“We designed and built custom components and specific software so that iPhone 14 antennas can connect to unique satellite frequencies,” company leaders said in today’s keynote. “That connection is only possible when the phone is pointing directly at a satellite. However, satellites fly too high to be seen by the human eye. So we created a unique user experience that shows you where to point your phone to establish a connection and stay connected as the satellite moves. This way, no bulky antenna is needed.”

Satellite help in emergencies

The primary purpose of the service revolves around getting help in an emergency. That’s especially relevant for anywhere without cell service, like most of the Canadian wilderness or the Arctic.

For Apple’s Emergency SOS, messages sent from the iPhone 14 get relayed to a ground station via satellite. Then the ground station sends it to the nearest emergency service dispatcher.

Once connected, iPhone automatically sends your location, Medical ID (if set up in the device), and battery level to first responders, Apple’s website said.

To save on bandwidth, Apple will provide a set of responses to choose from when communicating with emergency services.

These SOS messages can be sent in less than 15 seconds “if you have clear skies when you are out in the boondocks and completely off the grid,” PhoneArena reported.

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iPhone 14 Emergency SOS. Photo: Apple


Increased competition

Several companies have announced plans to offer satellite cell service. Elon Musk and SpaceX have partnered with T-Mobile to provide cell service in every corner of the U.S. But that won’t be available until the end of next year.

British smartphone maker Bullitt plans to offer a similar service beginning in February 2023. And in China, Huawei announced its own satellite connectivity plans this week.

Soon enough, these services will likely add up to make emergency messaging available to the whole world, no matter how far-flung the location.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.