The IT group in Cupertino, California, has once again proven its technology leadership. All types of the new iPhone 14 model series have a satellite-supported emergency call function. It was first activated for the USA in November and has also been available to users in Germany, France, England and Ireland since mid-December. More countries will be added gradually.
“Emergency SOS” is a text-based notification function that either goes directly to rescue control centers or is forwarded to emergency specialists trained by Apple.
Publisher’s special release
It was previously unclear whether the service also applies at sea. And although Apple does not provide any specific information about the coverage of common sea areas through the satellite service, a spokesman for YACHT confirmed at least to a limited extent that sailors can rely on the new security function.
Emergency SOS via satellite works in coastal waters where rescue services operate.”
Nevertheless, he restricted: “In international waters, emergency SOS via satellite is currently not available.” This reluctance seems understandable. Especially when starting a service that is critical in an emergency, the manufacturer does not want to expose itself with promises that could lead to liability claims in case of doubt.
Technically at least, the range of satellite communication is far greater. Apple’s emergency call SOS is based on the Globalstar network, which does not include the polar regions, but covers around 80 percent of the world – including almost the entire North and Baltic Seas, large parts of the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the North Atlantic.
The YACHT will carry out range tests at the earliest possible time. But even if the function is initially limited to areas near the coast, the iPhone 14 can help to at least partially fill the gaps in mobile networks that can sometimes be significant at sea.
“Emergency SOS makes satellite emergency communications more accessible, which is very interesting,” said Gary Machado, head of the European Emergency Number Association. “In practice, this means many more people can reach 112 if they don’t have cell service and need urgent help. We are confident that this will save many lives and will be of great help to the emergency services in tackling what are often very complicated operations.”
This is how emergency call SOS works via satellite
Activation is easy: just press and hold both the power button and the volume down button for a long time. Alternatively, you can quickly press the power button five times. The iPhone 14 then guides the user via an easy-to-use interface to set up a satellite connection if no cell phone service is available.
A few quick questions help provide vital information with a few taps of the finger, which is sent in the first message to dispatchers so they can quickly get an idea of the situation and the user’s location. iPhone then graphically shows users where to point the device to connect. This is important because the Globalstar satellites are orbiting the earth at high speed, so they are not always easily accessible. If the connection is established, the emergency call is sent automatically.
This message contains answers to questions about the location, the number of people injured, but also information about the location, the battery status of the iPhone and the emergency card, if this is stored. Like the follow-up messages, it is forwarded directly to switching centers via satellite. The transcript can also be forwarded to users’ emergency contacts to keep them updated, but this requires an iPhone with operating system version iOS 16.1 or higher and the use of iMessage.
Apple has developed proprietary components and software that allow the iPhone 14 to lock onto the frequencies of the Globalstar satellites without the need for a bulky antenna. In addition, a text compression algorithm has been programmed that reduces the average size of messages by a third so that transmission is as fast as possible.
Demo mode for practicing the emergency call function
With emergency call SOS via satellite, messages can be sent or received in just 15 seconds in good conditions. A dedicated demo program offers first-time users the opportunity to test the connection by logging on to a satellite within range without calling emergency services. This allows them to familiarize themselves with the service in peace.
In addition to emergency calls, the new function also allows you to share your location via satellite if no mobile network is available. In the Find My iPhone app, open the Me tab, swipe up to select My Location by Satellite, then tap Share My Location. iPhone 14’s satellite connection also works with other safety features of the device and Apple Watch, such as accident detection and fall detection.
The “SOS Satellite Emergency SOS” service is available to all Apple iPhone 14 owners. It is free of charge for the first two years since it was activated in Germany, i.e. until December 2024. It is not yet known what fees will be charged for use afterwards.
How important the service is to the IT group can be seen from the investment volume. Apple has provided 450 million euros for the function. Up to 80 percent of the Globalstar capacity is to be used in the long term for SOS emergency calls via satellite. This makes the network operator, which has always been a little overshadowed by the competition from Inmarsat, Iridium and Thuraya, a key player in satellite communications.
Of course, Apple’s iPhone extension is not a complete replacement for Iridium phones or GPS trackers like Garmin’s inReach, which can also send text messages via satellite. Because the battery life is shorter than with dedicated satellite devices, and private messages about the condition of the crew cannot be sent with it for the time being.
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