Apple Satellite SOS Service: What iPhone Users Need to Know

Data is sent from the iPhone to a ground station via Globalstar satellites, from where it is relayed to the responsible emergency call center and friends/family.image: watson

After North America, Apple plans to soon launch its innovative satellite emergency call service in the first European countries. This is also interesting for Swiss iPhone users.

17/11/2022, 11:4911/17/2022, 5:16 p.m

Daniel Schurter
Daniel Schurter

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Apple launched its new satellite emergency call service for the iPhone on Tuesday. First, this feature, designed to help people in areas without cellular coverage, is only available in North America. Soon, however, the first countries in Europe will come. This article revolves around the most important questions and answers about the technology, which is not available from any smartphone manufacturer.

Why is this important?

Imagine you are walking in a remote area (with no cell service) and come across a medical emergency. If you have an iPhone 14 with you, you can immediately alert the emergency services and ask for help via the integrated SOS satellite service. You may also share your own location with third parties.

It is still a dream of the future in this country. But Apple is working hard to launch the new lifeguard service in other countries after North America.

Plus: Swiss iPhone users can use the service even if they travel to a region where it is already officially available (more on that below).

Promotional video of the provider (YouTube):

How does it work?

The SOS satellite service is built into all new iPhones (from 2022). It is very easy to use. If you want to make an emergency call and you don’t have a connection, you will automatically be offered the option to alert the rescuers using an SMS sent via satellite.

In addition to emergency situations, the iPhone’s built-in satellite connection can be used to share your location with third parties through the “Where’s It?” app.


Here’s how Apple’s satellite emergency call service works for the iPhone

quelle: keystone / malcolm denmark

A window at the top of the iPhone display shows the satellite connection and message status.

Since only text messages can be sent through Apple’s satellite service, and direct inquiries from the Alarm Center are not possible, it is important to wrap all relevant information in an appropriate message.

Apple worked with 911 experts to make gathering the necessary information on the iPhone as easy as possible. As a user, all you have to do is answer a few questions by pressing the appropriate buttons and that’s it.

The iPhone will then show you how to orient the device to establish a connection, and then send the first message.

In addition to the information from the short questions (described above), the location (GPS coordinates) and battery status of the iPhone are transmitted. And the emergency pass will also be sent if the function is activated.

Apples How-to Video (YouTube):

If the responsible emergency call center (depending on the user’s location) cannot process text messages, so-called relay centers are used, which act as intermediaries between users and the emergency call center.

Where is the satellite SOS feature for iPhone?

Apple’s SOS satellite service is currently available in the United States (including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) and Canada.

Important: Emergency service is also available to people visiting the US and Canada if they didn’t buy their iPhone 14 in China, Hong Kong or Macau.

Which countries are next?

According to Apple’s announcement on Tuesday, the service should also be available “in December.” in Germany, France, Great Britain and Ireland to be available. The exact launch date has not yet been announced.

When will it be available in Switzerland?

This is not public knowledge.

Which satellite network operator does Apple work with?

With Globalstar, an American company based in Covington, Louisiana.

Apple says it is investing $450 million to significantly improve the Globalstar satellite network and ground stations. Globalstar has more than 300 employees working on the new service.

The ground stations use new high-performance antennas designed and manufactured specifically for Apple by California-based Cobham Satcom.

How high do these satellites fly?

Apple’s new service will use Globalstar’s network of low-orbit satellites.

They are the so-called LION-Satellites, the abbreviation means Low Earth Orbiti.e. a low orbit around the Earth with an altitude of around 2000 kilometers.

What are the technical requirements on the user side?

“Emergency SOS via Satellite” requires an iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max and an unobstructed view of the sky.

Apple support writes:

“Note that trees with light foliage can slow the connection, and dense foliage can block it. Hills or mountains, canyons, and tall buildings can also block connections.”


How susceptible is satellite service to interference?

We will see.

First hands-on experiences and reviews from North America are now available (on YouTube).

Joanna Stern, “Wall Street Journal”:

CNET’s Patrick Holland:

How fast is the service?

Apple has integrated a text compression algorithm into the system, which is said to reduce the average size of messages by 300 percent.

If outside conditions are good, messages can be sent in as little as 15 seconds, according to Apple.

A CNET reporter who had a chance to test the service at Apple Park says that the connection was made within 20 to 30 seconds “even on a cloudy and rainy day.” However, it can take a minute or longer, especially for light leaves.

What about data privacy and security?

User data is sent in encrypted form.

Apple Support explains that Apple then decrypts the data so it can pass it on to the responsible emergency services center or emergency call center. AND:

“Your messages may be stored by emergency call centers and forwarding providers to improve their services and to comply with applicable laws.”

The location will be shared with Apple and partners to forward text messages to emergency services and help rescuers search.

If, on the other hand, the location is shared via satellite via the “Where is it?” app, the data is “encrypted end-to-end” and Apple assures that it cannot access it.

So does the iPhone 14 handle satellite calling?


Apple uses the existing Globalstar satellite spectrum. The responsible US regulatory authority (FCC) has therefore already given its blessing. However, the SOS service is limited to two-way text messages. There are no voice calls or even video calls unless Apple invests tens of billions in new infrastructure.

Compatible iPhone models can connect to satellites to send a text message to emergency services or share location with contacts. However, the mobile device cannot be used to make calls as a satellite phone.

Is there a demo mode?

Yes. Anyone using a compatible iPhone model and residing in one of the few countries where the service is available can try it.

You can also try iPhone alignment in demo mode.

You can also try iPhone alignment in demo mode.image: apple

If your iPhone doesn’t have satellite location services enabled, you’ll first be prompted to enable them to run the demo.

  • First, open the “Settings” app.
  • Now click on the corresponding menu item for the new service “Emergency SOS via Satellite” (in English: “Emergency SOS via Satellite”).
  • You can now run the demo and follow the on-screen instructions.

To try the demo mode, you must be in a country or region where the new feature is officially available

How much does “SOS emergency call via satellite” cost?

According to Apple, the SOS satellite service will be free for iPhone users for two years. Additionally, the company has not disclosed how much it plans to charge or whether it will ever charge for access.

Is it also available for Android users?

Not for now.

Who are the biggest competitors?

Apple is the first company in the world to integrate a satellite SOS service into mainstream smartphones. Since the iPhone maker is a leader in innovation in the industry, the competition should follow suit as soon as possible.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company and US mobile phone provider T-Mobile unveiled much more far-reaching plans in August 2022: New Starlink satellites to be attached to normal smartphones to enable ultra-fast internet connections beyond 5G. cell phone masts. Musk has promised that even after all the cell phone masts come down—for example, due to a natural disaster—you’ll still be able to use your cell phone and connect to the Internet.

However, the challenge is to build antennas that pick up the weak cell phone signal. T-Mobile and SpaceX also want to start with text messaging, including SMS and messaging apps, before adding data-intensive services and phone calls.

I already have it on my iPhone?

Very likely not. If you’re not in the US or Canada with an iPhone 14.

Please do not confuse! “Notruf SOS” can also be found on all newer iPhone models in Europe. And that through the “Settings” application. This is not a satellite service, but a telephone emergency call.

The iPhone 14 and the Apple Watch Ultra, Series 8 and SE 2 models also have automatic accident detection, which should automatically dial an emergency call after a violent collision (car accident, etc.). However, older Apple smartphones do not have this feature.

In memory: It pays to save your most important personal information, including emergency contacts, to an emergency pass on your iPhone (> Settings > Health). In the event of an emergency, the relevant persons can also be informed via the new SOS satellite service. And EMTs have access from the lock screen.


Stories about iPhone 14 and iOS 16

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