Alongside the four new iPhone models announced at Apple’s ‘Far Out’ media event yesterday was a new safety system that enables potentially life-saving two-way communications with emergency services in locations where no cellular coverage exists.
Emergency SOS via Satellite has been a long time in the making for Apple. Rumours that a satellite communication feature might be making its way to the iPhone gained momentum in 2021, opening the door for others to try to steal some of the stardust from Apple’s eventual announcement.
Nevertheless, Apple going live with a mass-market system this year is as much a technical achievement as it is a logistical one: the infrastructure necessary to support the emergency nature of the communications includes staffed relay centres that contact emergency services on behalf those using the service for help.
The feature will be available only in the US and Canada at launch in November, with Apple committing that the service will remain free for two years.
Globalstar’s network of low earth orbit satellites will provide the communications using the n53 band supported in the Qualcomm Snapdragon X65 modem that is widely tipped to be beneath the iPhone 14’s hood. For now, this is a very low-bandwidth connection, largely reliant on a clear line-of-sight and – aided by an onboard app – directional alignment with the nearest satellite.
Indicative of its longer-term vision for the satellite service, Apple demonstrated that the connection isn’t exclusively for blue-light emergency situations – in the keynote, a user’s phone was shown connecting with the Find My network that is more often used to keep connect friends and family or locate lost keys.
“Commercis welcomes Apple’s announcement of the new iPhone 14 with emergency satellite backup providing users with the ultimate in connectivity,” said Jack Buechler, VP of business development at Commercis. “This use case validates the ongoing adoption of satellite from broadcast to emergency disaster relief, to everyday usage for broadband communications technology.”