Apple has unveiled a new security service that connects users who are off-grid in remote areas to emergency centers by connecting via satellite.
The service, which rolled out on Tuesday, is available in Canada and the US for users of all iPhone 14 models.
“There are always places that you can never completely cover with cell towers, like national parks or rural areas, so an emergency quickly becomes a problem,” said Maxime Veron, Apple’s director of iPhone product marketing.
“Imagine, for example, that you are walking and you are on your own and you fall and break something or you roll your ankle, and night comes and you have not seen anyone for an hour. You know you need help because you’re not sure you can get back to your truck or campground, so what do you do?”
The service works as follows.
Users in an off-grid emergency can select the Emergency SOS feature and answer a few questions, such as What is the emergency? Who needs help? Is anyone injured? The message is sent via satellite to the nearest emergency center.
The user can also notify emergency contacts programmed into their phone and share their location through the iPhone’s Find My app.
The iPhone will connect to one of Globalstar’s 24 low-orbit satellites and the message will be relayed to emergency services.
The new system marks “a major advancement in public safety with Emergency SOS via satellite,” said Robert Stewart, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Canada. “For first responders, it is important to receive vital information such as medical ID and location to ensure we send the right aid to the right place at the right time.”
Custom components and special software in iPhone 14 devices allow them to connect to satellites. Such hardware components are new and not available in previous models.
Apple said it is “very excited to offer this groundbreaking service for free for the first two years.”
It didn’t say whether or not it will charge for the service after that time frame.
Curious users can access the Emergency SOS via satellite demo. It connects to a real satellite and tests connectivity without actually calling emergency services.
Veron said the technology requires a clear view of the sky and horizon to make the connection, as trees, hills, mountains, canyons and tall structures can all block the signal. If the signal is blocked, the phone will give instructions in which direction the user should go to connect.
The launch comes as Canada grapples with how best to facilitate access to emergency services in the event of a telecommunications network outage.
Last week, Telus Corp. an outage in parts of Southern Ontario that left customers unable to call 9-1-1 from a landline.
On July 8, an outage at Rogers Communications Inc. prevented millions of Canadians from reaching police, paramedics and firefighters with emergency calls.
The service will be expanded to France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom next month.
With files from The Canadian Press.
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