The tech has already saved lives overseas and allows users to send an Emergency SOS via satellite when no phone data or WiFi is available – we tried it for ourselves.


Clunky PLBs no more! Just kidding…maybe. Last week I met up with a very excited crew from Apple so they could demonstrate a new feature coming to Australia and New Zealand’s shores. It’s called Emergency SOS via satellite and it’s a bit of a gamechanger for safety in the outdoors and remote areas.

What is Emergency SOS via Satellite?

Emergency SOS via Satellite is a new safety feature for iPhone 14 models that allows users to message with emergency services when they’re outside of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage. It has the potential to make rescues easier and reduce the severity of unexpected emergencies. While 99% of the Australian population has mobile phone coverage, only 27% of the landmass is covered.

It’s part of Apple’s push to add safety features to their devices, such as crash and fall detection in their watches and phones, or the 80 decibel siren in the Apple Watch Ultra (which we recently reviewed).


How Emergency SOS via Satellite Works

Emergency SOS via Satellite connects directly to a satellite through custom-designed hardware and software that allows the iPhone 14 to reach satellites over 1,000km above without a large antenna.

If you try to call 000 and the call doesn’t go through you’ll get the option to send an Emergency SOS via Satellite. You’ll then answer a short questionnaire that Apple designed with experts to gather the most important information about your emergency.

You then point the iPhone toward the sky to connect and send the initial message, which includes your responses, location, battery level, and Medical ID (which is worth filling out, along with emergency contacts, if you haven’t already). 

There’s a little interface that helps you track the satellite across the sky to maximise connection, which can take a few minutes, but then in clear skies you should be able to send and receive messages in about 15 seconds. Apple designed a text compression algorithm to reduce message sizes by 3x to give them the best chance of getting through.


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So who are you talking to? It’s not Australian Emergency Services. You’ll be connected to a relay centre with Apple-trained specialists who’ll reach out to the relevant Emergency services and pass on the detailed information you’ve provided.

Read: What happens if I activate my distress beacon?

Emergency Contacts Will Be Notified

If you initiate an Emergency SOS via satellite the iPhone will also notify up to ten emergency contacts. All phone users will get your location and type of emergency, but iPhone users with iOS 16.4 or later will also see a live transcript of your chat with the relay centre. Watch what you say! 

What It’s Like To Use

I had the chance to test out the Emergency SOS via satellite feature in a controlled environment in Malabar National Park last week and actually have a conversation via satellite.

Like most Apple products the experience was very seamless and intuitive. Somewhat surprisingly so, having used satellite messaging devices in the past that take ages to get a text out. It almost felt… normal.


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Tim looking super lost (definitely acting) while he tests out the feature


In the words of our Gear Editor Matt Wiseman: ‘Sell your PLB stocks’. I agree, if this is the first iteration of the technology for consumers I’d say their days are numbered.

As for pointing the phone toward satellites, Apple said that’s more about optimising the signal than a necessity, but would be particularly useful if you were stuck in a canyon or under thick tree cover. In fact, two people were rescued in California last year after they crashed their car into a remote canyon with no phone service, and used the feature to call for help.

My biggest concern was the use of battery life, being a satellite feature, however Apple didn’t think the battery drain was particularly strong given the minimal amounts of data being sent and received. The best thing you can do is turn on Airplane Mode to save battery when you know there’s no signal, as searching for weak phone tower signals uses lots of energy.

If you’ve got an up-to-date iPhone 14 you can try it now, head to Emergency SOS in Settings and click ‘Try Demo’ to get a feel for it.

So what does this change?

Firstly, I want to be clear that Apple aren’t suggesting you throw out your PLB or Satellite Messenger, at least, not yet. They see it as an added safety capability that can support your other devices, or come into action in situations where you generally wouldn’t have them on you.

Maybe you crash your car while driving between towns in the country, or lose reception in a valley in the Blue Mountains on a day hike, despite only being a few kilometres from Katoomba. Perhaps someone slips and falls at a coastal rock platform where only Telstra users get patchy coverage. There are so many situations where a quick and solid connection to Emergency services could change the outcome.

And compared to a PLB, this is two way communication. So if I roll my ankle or blow up my radiator, I can let emergency services know that and save them from sending multiple helicopters ready for any scenario.

The feature’s now online in 12 countries and works with crash and fall detection too. Hopefully in the future it can help avoid situations like this one in Tassie last week – a woman toughed it out in the cold for two days whilst stuck in a blackberry bush just off the road.

Find My Tracking

You won’t have to wait until an emergency to make use of the fancy tech either. Apple has linked the feature to the Find My app to allow you to share your location via satellite when there’s no phone coverage. If you’re into solo adventures this feature is sure to reassure your stressed out friends and family of your whereabouts (speaking from experience).


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Which phones can do Emergency SOS via Satellite?

The iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max will all have the feature.

How much does it cost?

Currently Emergency SOS by satellite will be free for two years from activation of the phone, with no information yet on what the future holds. I’m hoping to test out the Find My with satellite feature soon!