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Apple activates iPhone emergency SOS satellite service

Apple announced its groundbreaking safety service Emergency SOS via satellite is now available to customers in the US and Canada. Available on all iPhone 14 models, the innovative technology enables users to message with emergency services while outside of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage. Additionally, if users want to reassure friends and family of their whereabouts while traveling off the grid, they can now open the Find My app and share their location via satellite. Emergency SOS via satellite is available in the US and Canada starting today, November 15, and will come to France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK in December.

“Some of the most popular places to travel are off the beaten path and simply lack cellular coverage. With Emergency SOS via satellite, the iPhone 14 lineup provides an indispensable tool that can get users the help they need while they are off the grid,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “Our teams worked tirelessly to tackle a new set of technical challenges to bring this service to life, in addition to building a reliable on-the-ground infrastructure. Emergency SOS via satellite is a breakthrough service available only on the iPhone 14 lineup, and a new innovation that we hope will provide our customers some peace of mind.”

Every model in the iPhone 14 lineup — iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max — can connect directly to a satellite through a combination of custom-designed components and deeply integrated software. Emergency SOS via satellite builds on existing features vital to iPhone users, including Emergency SOS, Medical ID, emergency contacts, and Find My location sharing, offering the ability to connect to a satellite for a more 360-degree approach to sharing critical information with emergency services, family, and friends. This game-changing service allows Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) — or emergency services call centers — to connect to even more users in emergency situations, and requires no additional software or protocols to enable communications. Users will be connected directly to emergency services that are equipped to receive text messages, or to relay centers with Apple-trained emergency specialists who are ready to contact PSAPs that cannot receive text messages on the user’s behalf.

“Providing Emergency SOS via satellite is an important breakthrough that will save lives. The critical work being done by Apple to create innovative new solutions to support 911 providers and first responders is a huge step forward in protecting Californians and the broader public during an emergency situation,” said Mark Ghilarducci, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services’ director.

How Emergency SOS via Satellite Works
iPhone can quickly and easily call emergency services if a user is in need of help, even if they are unable to dial 911. With Emergency SOS via satellite — introduced with the iPhone 14 lineup — if a user is not able to reach emergency services because no cellular or Wi-Fi coverage is available, an easy-to-use interface appears on iPhone to get the user help utilizing a satellite connection. A short questionnaire appears to help the user answer vital questions with a few simple taps, which is transmitted to dispatchers in the initial message, to ensure they are able to quickly understand a user’s situation and location. Apple worked closely with experts to review standard questions and protocols to identify the most common reasons for calling emergency services.

Following the questionnaire, the intuitive interface guides the user where to point their iPhone to connect and sends the initial message. This message includes the user’s questionnaire responses; location, including altitude; iPhone battery level; and Medical ID, if enabled. The questionnaire and follow-up messages are relayed directly via satellite to dispatchers that accept text messages, or to relay centers staffed by Apple‑trained specialists who can call for help on the user’s behalf. The transcript can also be shared with the user’s emergency contacts to keep them informed.

“We dedicate our lives to helping people in need, but there are inevitably people who are not able to contact a dispatcher. Emergency SOS via satellite will allow us to help iPhone users in more remote areas who might not otherwise be able to reach us,” said Jennifer Kirkland, ENP, the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center’s 911 center manager. “Because this service requires no additional technology for PSAPs, and because Apple has implemented a relay center model that 911 operators are familiar with, we can expect a seamless rollout, both for the PSAPs that accept text messages, and for those that are still voice-only.”

Satellites move rapidly, have low bandwidth, and are located thousands of miles away from Earth, so it can take a few minutes for even short messages to get through. Apple designed and built custom components and software that allow iPhone 14 to connect to a satellite’s unique frequencies without a bulky antenna. A text compression algorithm was also developed to reduce the average size of messages by 300 percent, making the experience as fast as possible. With Emergency SOS via satellite, users can send and receive messages in as little as 15 seconds in clear conditions. Using the built-in Emergency SOS via satellite demo, users can test satellite connectivity on their iPhone by connecting to a real satellite in range without calling emergency services, allowing them to experience the process and familiarize themselves with the service.

“Emergency SOS via satellite will not only be useful for those who live in rural areas without cellular coverage, but also for those who find themselves in the path of a natural disaster that takes down mobile networks. It will allow members in impacted communities to connect with 911 and get help, and that’s our mission,” said Laurene Anderson, NENA: The 9-1-1 Association’s president and Charlotte County, Florida’s E911 manager. “Awareness and training will be key to seamless adoption of this service. What Apple is doing to spread the word among dispatchers, and to let the community practice with a demo mode that does not contact 911, will help everyone know what to do when an emergency strikes.”

For users who go off the grid but don’t experience an emergency, this advanced technology also enables them to share their location via satellite with Find My. In the Find My app, users can open the Me tab, swipe up to see My Location via Satellite, and tap Send My Location. The satellite connection on the iPhone 14 lineup also works with other safety features available on iPhone and Apple Watch, including Crash Detection and Fall Detection.

CT Bureau

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