Apple iPhone 14 Emergency Satellite SOS

The Good, The Bad, and the REALISTIC

Over the past few weeks, the big announcement from Apple is the new iPhone 14 and its new revolutionary satellite-based SOS services. Unfortunately, quite a few people seem to be very excited over this capability, and with all this excitement – there appears to be mass confusion. To Apple’s credit, they have done a fantastic job clearly explaining the ability, including the potential gotchas.’ Unfortunately, because of the impact of this new and exciting capability, people often read what they want to read and skip over the crucial words.

To dispel some of the false information circulating and quell the inaccurate rumors about the Satellite 911 Emergency service, here’s an accurate take on some of the essential capabilities, limitations, and my personal view of what’s to come in the future.

WHAT IT IS:

The Apple Satellite Emergency Text Service is a TEXT-based service that can help reach Emergency services when in a remote area with no other connectivity. It is not standard Text Messaging. Instead, it is a text-based communication link providing essential low-speed connectivity via satellite. AT THIS TIME, voice, IM, SMS, and Video services are not supported.

WHEN & WHERE IT WORKS:

The Apple Satellite Emergency Text Service is only available when no cellular or WiFi signals are available, and the device has a CLEAR VIEW of the sky. A CLEAR VIEW means you are outside, with an expansive view of the horizon with little or no foliage blocking. Satellite signals are weak; to begin with, the antenna in the iPhone is fixed and must be pointed in the appropriate direction. Fortunately, the iPhone has an application that helps you tell the device in an optimal order. Messages may take several minutes to send and receive depending on the actual throughput, making two-way communications extremely awkward and delayed.

THE PROTOCOL USED:

To minimize the size of the datagram packets, Apple uses a proprietary protocol between the iPhone and the satellites and the satellite ground stations receiving the signals. Apple accomplishes this through a menu-driven interface on the phone that asks the user questions, compiles the answers, and then sends that limited information to the ground station.

THE APPLE SATELLITE GROUND STATION:

The Apple satellite ground station decodes the proprietary datagram and examines the information for the device location to determine what agency needs to receive the information. The data is assembled in a Text-to-911 message and sent to the appropriate destination PSAP/ECC. For example, suppose the destination PSAP/ECC is not Text-to-911 capable. In that case, the decoded message is delivered to a relay center by establishing voice communications through a phone call to the right center, acting as a human translator between parties.

QUESTIONS THAT REMAIN:

With the new Emergency SOS service only available with the new iPhone 14, very little detailed public information has been released.

Cost of the Service

One of the 1st issues to address is the cost of the new satellite service. Apple has vowed to include two years of service in the phone purchase cost. After that time, the service’s monthly/annual recurring fee will be announced.

Who this Service Going to Benefit

The service is designed to provide emergency communications to individuals stranded in remote areas where NO OTHER connectivity is available. In addition, it gives a last-ditch effort for TEXT ONLY communications that would only be available with a satellite phone.

There is no doubt about it. This is a tremendous advance and the first step in advancing global connectivity from space. With Elon Musk’s Starlink providing Low Earth Orbit data connectivity, the Apple satellites providing low-speed Text to 911, communications, especially E-Comms, are continuously advancing. Just as the next evolution is rolling out (5G LTE), we begin to enter the following new world of global connectivity.

Looking back on my career, it was only 40 years ago when I discovered CompuServe on my RadioShack 64K Ram Double Floppy TRS-80 with a 300 bps acoustic coupler modem. Now I have been primarily home-based for much of the last 20 years, reliable 1-gigabyte Fiber Optic service for connectivity, publishing a blog that thousands will read in the next few days.

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