Apple announced an upcoming satellite connectivity feature called Emergency SOS via Satellite at its iPhone 14 launch event. The tool is intended to help people using the company’s next-generation phones communicate when their cell service isn’t working – a process that took Apple years to make a reality.
The company said it has designed and built specific technology into the iPhone 14 devices so that they can connect to satellites even when they are not near a terrestrial tower.
The service is expected to launch in the United States and Canada in November. The iPhone 14 will begin pre-sale on Friday and will come with a starting price of $799, Apple announced on Wednesday at its lucrative annual event.
“Unlike stationary cell towers, communications satellites are hundreds of miles above Earth and are flying at speeds of more than 15,000 mph. To connect to these satellites, you need to be outside with a clear view of the sky and bandwidth.
So limited that even sending a text message is a technical challenge,” Williams said. “Typically, the only way to tap into such networks is with an expensive device that uses a bulky external antenna.”
“We knew the approach just wouldn’t work for the iPhone,” she said. “So we invented another way.”
The iPhone 14 will have the built-in antenna needed to communicate with satellites — and it won’t look anything like the bulky satellite phones of years past.
The phone will be equipped with software that will show users where to point their phone to link to the satellite when no other service option is available.
Once connected, phones will be able to send and receive information for emergency assistance, according to Apple satellite specialist Ashley Williams, who spoke during the incident.
The company said it has built a small text compression mechanism to condense the messages so that it takes about 15 seconds to send them when the user has a clear view of the sky. (This may take a few minutes if there is anything like leaves in the way.)
The service will work for text-based communication, she said and can be used to communicate with emergency centers that only accept voice calls because Apple has set up a “relay center” to pass on text.
The device can also be used in non-emergency situations, such as when a user is out hiking and wants to keep their family updated on their whereabouts.
According to Apple iPhone’s vice president of marketing, Kayn Drance, the service will be provided free of charge for two years with the purchase of the iPhone 14. He did not say how much the service would cost thereafter.
Adding satellite service to the new iPhones “should dominate the headlines,” according to Ben Wood, a chief analyst at CCS Insight.
“The investment to add satellite capability should not be underestimated. Apple will likely see a commercial agreement with satellite provider Globalstar to put all the pieces of the puzzle in place and build the infrastructure needed to pass messages.” emergency services,” Wood said.
Globalstar confirmed in a financial filing that it is the contractor for the project. Apple did not immediately respond to an email request for additional information.
But the news, with a release expected next month, comes after T-Mobile announced similar plans to “eliminate dead zones” by using the new SpaceX Starlink satellites for backup service.
It is marketed as a move to provide full high-speed Internet service in dead zones. That service isn’t expected to roll out before the end of next year, though T-Mobile said that, once released, it should work with customers’ existing phones.