One of the new features that arrived alongside the iPhone 14 handsets in September 2022 was a feature that Apple calls “Emergency SOS via satellite”—and the name tells you pretty much all you need to know.
Apple says it’s intended for “exceptional circumstances when no other means of reaching the emergency services are available.” When you’re in trouble and you can’t get a Wi-Fi signal or a lock on a cell tower, your iPhone 14 will make contact with a satellite and send out your plea for help that way.
Be warned, though, this isn’t a backup internet connection for personal use. The satellite connection is slow and limited, and it’s really only suitable for transmitting key information about your situation: where you are, what condition you’re in, and what you need help with.
To use the Emergency SOS via satellite function, you need an iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, or an iPhone 14 Pro Max. Apple hasn’t discussed long-term pricing yet, but it has made the service free for two years when you buy a compatible device.
How Emergency SOS via Satellite Works
Emergency SOS via satellite becomes available only when you’re in an area without any Wi-Fi or cellular coverage—otherwise it’s expected that you can get in touch with emergency services or your trusted contacts in the normal way. Ideally, you need a clear view of the sky and the horizon, as obstructions like foliage and mountains can slow or even block your satellite connection.
Even in perfect conditions with the best satellite lock, messages can take 15 seconds to send. That might seem primitive, but there’s a lot of impressive technology here—not least the way that Apple has fitted satellite connectivity into something as svelte as the iPhone 14. (Check out the size of a regular satellite phone to see what we mean.)
As you would want in a stressful emergency situation, your phone will guide you through everything you need to do, and that includes moving the iPhone to stay locked to a satellite. (This can be done even when the handset itself is locked.) The feature works in combination with the other safety options on the iPhone, so you can send emergency responders information from the Medical ID section of the Health app, for example.