iPhone 14’s groundbreaking Satellite SOS feature now live in Australia and New Zealand

Back in November of last year, Apple’s unveiled its Emergency SOS via Satellite service. This ground breaking feature made it possible for iPhone 14 and 14 Pro owners to contact emergency services without any mobile or Wi-Fi coverage. A big drawback, however, was that the feature was only available the US and Canada. Starting from today, Australians and New Zealanders can now reach emergency services anywhere they find themselves out of reception range, including about 15-20 kilometres off the coastline.

Australia and New Zealand join 10 other countries that are able to use the Emergency SOS via Satellite service. In addition to calling for help, satellite connectivity can be used to relay your location with family and friends using the Find My app, and is a great option for outback camping, remote hikes and road trips.

The Albanese government welcomes the launch of this innovative safety capability. The ability to contact Triple Zero with Emergency SOS via satellite when there is no mobile coverage is a strong backup to keep Australians connected in an emergency. This will go a long way in helping emergency services respond to, protect, and ultimately, keep individuals safe from harm. Australians are encouraged to familiarise themselves with this feature and whether their device supports it.

Hon Michelle Rowland MP, Minister for Communications

Apple explained that setting up the Emergency SOS service in a country isn’t as simple as just switching it on, as a special “relay service” consisting a team of Apple-trained people is needed to receive and route emergency messages from iPhone 14s to local emergency services. So it took time to establish the team, train the relay personnel, work with the satellite partner, etc.

How does the SOS via Satellite feature work?

I had the opportunity to try out at a special live demonstration a fews of days ago. First, you don’t need to do anything to enable the feature for it to work. You will need an iPhone 14, however, as it’s not supported on older iPhone models.

When you’re out of mobile and Wi-Fi reception range, the first thing that you’ll notice is that your signal reception strength icon (at the to right of your screen) will be replaced by a little satellite icon. This means that you can only receive satellite signals. 

If you try to call 000 for help, you will be told that there is no connection and to try “Emergency Text Via Satellite”. Press the Emergency Text via Satellite button to make the connection. (Step 1)

You’ll then be asked to provide some basic information via questionnaire by tapping on the appropriate button, such as if you’re stranded, trapped or lost, and if you have a traumatic injury, heart issue, etc. (Step 2) This, along with your Medical ID details, phone battery level, and geo-location including altitude will be packaged up for transmission over satellite.

Next, you’ll be asked if you want to share this information, along with a transcript of the conversation with your emergency contacts. This is why it’s very important to set up your emergency contacts and save your Medical ID details. You can set up your emergency contacts by navigating to your settings in iOS and then via the Emergency SOS menu. For your Medical ID, open the Health app and tap on your account icon on the top right, and then choose Medical ID. Consider this a reminder!

From there, you will be shown a diagram to help you connect to an overhead satellite. (Step 3) Apple has partnered with satellite provider Globalstar, so while there are many satellites up in the sky at any time, you can only send a text message through Globalstar’s “constellation” or collection of satellites. One should fly overhead each minute, so you might need to wait until a satellite is in range. The diagram helps you orient your phone in the right direction, and you’ll of course need to be outside, although it does apparently work in cars. It also works day or night.

The satellite’s signal strength will vary depending on the amount of visible sky, so a clear patch is ideal, and obstructions like buildings or heavy forest canopies can get it the way. However, a recent incident in the US where a car went into a ravine and Apple’s crash detection was able to call emergency services via satellite shows that it can still be a lifesaver, even with a cliff face in the way. More on that story on 9 to 5 Mac

After a connection is established, the details are sent to the relay centre, which operates 24 hours, 7 days a week. Transmitting the information to a satellite that’s about 1,000Kms in the sky can take anywhere from 15 seconds to about a minute, and the system will tell you if you need to wait for another satellite to pass overhead.

Bear in mind that Apple uses a special compression algorithm to reduce the size of the data and a redundant method of sending it so that nothing gets lost in transit. 

Once the relay person has looked at your information, you’ll be taken to a iMessage style interface where they can ask follow up questions such as the type of medication you are taking or ask for a better description of your location. (Step 4) When they have what they need, you’ll be notified that emergency services are on the way.

You can try out a demo of the how it all works, including testing out a live connection to at satellite, by heading to your settings and choosing Emergency SOS and scrolling down to the ‘Try Demo’ option at the bottom of the page.

Helping friends and family find you

Even if you don’t have an emergency, you can still use the satellite connectivity feature to share your location when you’re otherwise out of reception range. Just hop into the Find My app and go to the ‘Me’ menu on the bottom right and tap ‘Send My Location’ in the ‘My Location via Satellite’ area. Apple’s Crash Detection and Fall Detection features on iPhone and Apple Watch can also use satellite connectivity if you are out of reception range.

Using the share my location via Satellite feature on iPhone 14

Apple says that the service is free for the first two years from the point when you purchase an iPhone 14. Once this has expired, you’ll need to pay for it, however, the company has not released pricing as of yet. We assume that what it costs doesn’t really matter in the case of an emergency but it may make you think twice if using it to share your location when you’re off the grid when camping, etc.

Overall, Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite service is a fantastic option that will undoubteldy save lives in ANZ, as it has elsewhere in the world. It’s another point of difference for the iPhone 14, and it gels perfectly with Australia where nearly 2/3rds of the country’s land mass does not have mobile and Wi-Fi reception. No doubt, Apple’s competitors will be paying attention.

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