The Apple iPhone 14 is traveling to space. Well, not exactly, but it is the first iPhone to be able to connect to satellites orbiting far above the Earth in addition to terrestrial cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Emergency SOS by Satellite is the name of the service, which is currently only available in times of need. At Apple’s Far Out presentation on Wednesday, the service was unveiled. Apple overcame many significant technical challenges in order to offer this capability.
The first is the difficulty of initially connecting an Apple iPhone 14 to a satellite. The iPhone lacks the large, unwieldy antenna that is typically seen on a satellite phone, and satellites orbit the globe at high and rapid speeds. Instead, Apple designed the iPhone’s built-in antenna to be able to send and receive data straight to an orbiting satellite. However, due to the iPhone 14’s small antenna, the user must point the device squarely at the satellite and maintain that angle throughout message sending and reception. Although it seems difficult, there is an app for it!
Yes, Apple has created an app that instructs users on how to point their iPhones in order to establish a satellite connection, maintain that orientation, and speed up the process of relaying emergency information. Users may need to keep the iPhone aimed at the satellite for up to 15 seconds to send a message, or for many minutes if there are obstructions like trees or hills.
How much data you can transport through a satellite connection, or more exactly how little, is another technical challenge. If you’ve ever used a satellite phone, you’ll be aware of just how little bandwidth is available—worse it’s than an outdated modem connection. Apple has had to innovate and compress the data sent over the network to get around this.
Apple also revised the procedure for notifying emergency agencies of texts. Text messages are routed directly to the emergency services provider if it accepts them. The text messages are transmitted through one of the relay centers Apple has set up, which is staffed by qualified specialists who will call the emergency service provider if the provider only accepts voice calls. The service is not intended to be utilized solely in an emergency. Apple’s Find My function will allow users to share their whereabouts through satellite. The Emergency SOS through Satellite service will be available and free for iPhone 14 owners for two years beginning in November in the US and Canada.
Kingsley-Hughes, A. (2022, September 7). How the apple iphone 14 connects to satellites during emergencies. ZDNET. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://www.zdnet.com/article/how-the-apple-iphone-14-connects-to-satellites-during-emergencies/