How the satellite connection of the new iPhone works

How the satellite connection of the new iPhone works

  • Apple has introduced Emergency SOS via Satellite, a service that allows location sharing via satellite even when there is no Wi-Fi or mobile data connection.

In its September keynote, held last Wednesday, Apple presented a good batch of devices: the four models of the new iPhone 14; the Apple Watch Series 8, its latest smartwatch that comes with an economical and a premium version, and the AirPods Pro 2nd generation.

But in addition to showing many new gadgets, those from Cupertino also brought to light an interesting function that will be present on their iPhone: Emergency SOS via satellite.

Although they are not the first to launch this service on the market, since Huawei already has this option in its recently presented Mate 50 mobile, the satellite connection is an important advance and an improvement that has been very well received by users.

In this article we explain how the satellite connection of the new iPhone 14 works.

This is how the Emergency SOS service via iPhone satellite works

The entire iPhone 14 range launches Emergency SOS via satellite, a feature that allows the smartphone’s antennas to connect directly to a satellite and send messages to emergency services when there is no mobile data or WiFi coverage.

To do this, it uses Globalstar’s N53 band (2483-2495 Mhz), now incorporated into iPhones thanks to Qualcomm modems. Globalstar is an American telecommunications company that operates a constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites – at about 1,400 kilometers in altitude – for satellite telephony and low-speed data communications. These orbits have an inclination of 52 degrees, so the service does not cover polar areas, but it does cover the vast majority of the planet’s populated areas.

This does not imply that the iPhone has suddenly become a satellite phone: Apple -yet?- does not include in its mobiles the appropriate hardware to hold a voice call via satellite. Not even the data connection is bidirectional. Instead, communication will be one-way only via an app capable of sending – but not receiving – text messages over the Globalstar network.

The process is simple: when the service is accessed, the iPhone displays some vital questions to assess the user’s situation and tells them where to point their phone to connect to a satellite using a kind of compass. The initial questionnaire and follow-up messages are sent to centers where Apple-trained specialists call emergency services on the user’s behalf. In addition, the technology also allows users to manually share their satellite location with the Find If No WiFi or mobile data connection feature.

However, as the company warns, the satellites are in motion and have low bandwidth, so the messages may take several minutes to arrive.

Another of the warnings made by those from Cupertino is that “Emergency SOS via satellite has been designed to be used in open spaces with a clear view of the sky.” That is to say: you will have to move away from obstacles such as trees, “hills or mountains, canyons and tall structures”, as they may slow down the connection.

“Under ideal conditions with a direct view of the sky and horizon, a message can take 15 seconds to send and over a minute to send under trees with light to medium foliage. If you are under dense foliage or surrounded by other obstructions, you may not be able to connect to a satellite. Connection times can also be affected by your environment, the length of your message, and the status and availability of the satellite network.

As indicated on the Apple website, the Emergency SOS service via satellite will be available first in the United States and Canada, starting next November, and will be free for two years with the activation of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14Pro Max. It is not yet known if the rest of the users will be able to use this novelty or if there will be a subscription model in the future.

Rachel Maga
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life's biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.