iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max include a new SOS emergency function via satellite connection, so users can get help even when they are out of cellular and Wi-Fi range. This feature is rolling out first in the US and Canada, starting in November.
A Reuters report this weekend indicated that the satellite features are enabled by a Qualcomm X65 modem inside the phones. An Apple statement to Reuters also said that custom Apple-designed radio frequency components and software also make the satellite function possible.
The Qualcomm X65 modem enables 5G mobile connectivity for phone calls and data, but also “band n53” which allows the iPhone to communicate with satellites in the sky. In particular, Apple has partnered with satellite infrastructure managed by Globalstar.
Emergency SOS via satellite will be available when the user initiates an emergency call but is unable to connect to a cell tower. If so, the phone will show the option to connect to satellite and send a short text message instead. Users need a clear view of the sky for the feature to work; iOS will direct the user to point their device to line up satellites overhead.
If local emergency services can use text-based channels, iPhone will transmit those messages directly over the satellite link. If not, Apple’s relay centers will receive the SOS message and call the emergency services on your behalf.
This service will be free for two years, starting in November. Apple has not revealed pricing plans for the satellite service after the free period is over. Country availability is limited to the US and Canada initially.
It’s an open secret that Apple’s chip team is currently working on an internal 5G modem with the aim of removing Qualcomm parts from the iPhone entirely, with primary goals of power efficiency (longer battery life) and reducing royalty payments to improve unit cost margins on each iPhone sold .
However, making a modem is incredibly complicated and many analysts remain skeptical that Apple will succeed. Apple is hoping to replicate the success of its custom silicon investments for its A-series and M-series SoCs. The rumor mill consensus currently expects the first Apple modem to be ready for primetime in 2024.
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