How Apple's $450 million satellite emergency network will work

Beaming small messages between custom made ground stations and 24 satellites whipping around the globe at 16,000 mile per hour.

From "Emergency SOS via satellite on iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro lineups made possible by $450 million Apple investment in US infrastructure" posted Thursday on Apple's Newsroom:

A $450 million investment from Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund provides the critical infrastructure that supports Emergency SOS via satellite for iPhone 14 models. Available to customers in the US and Canada beginning later this month, the new service will allow iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models to connect directly to a satellite, enabling messaging with emergency services when outside of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage...

Delivered in partnership with Globalstar, Apple’s Emergency SOS via satellite service utilizes the spectrum in L and S bands specially designated for mobile satellite services by ITU Radio Regulations. When an iPhone user makes an Emergency SOS via satellite request, the message is received by one of Globalstar’s 24 satellites in low-earth orbit traveling at speeds of approximately 16,000 mph. The satellite then sends the message down to custom ground stations located at key points all over the world.

Once received by a ground station, the message is routed to emergency services that can dispatch help, or a relay center with Apple-trained emergency specialists if the closest emergency services location is not able to receive text messages...

The ground stations use new high-power antennas designed and manufactured specifically for Apple by Cobham Satcom in Concord, California. Cobham’s employees engineer and manufacture the high-powered antennas, which will receive signals transmitted by the satellite constellation...

To connect iPhone with the satellite network, users communicate over the mobile satellite services spectrum, which Globalstar has operated in the US for the past 20 years. With upgraded ground stations, and soon an updated satellite constellation, Apple and Globalstar will ensure the spectrum continues to enable emergency services.

My take: So, when does it start?

25 Comments

  1. Daniel Epstein said:
    “My take: So, when does it start?” Not my first question as they are saying later this month. To me what is interesting is how small an investment this sounds like considering the potential market. If Apple sells 200 million Iphone 14’s this year then we are only looking at under 3 dollars per phone to create this new feature in the first year. (Excluding phone R&D costs) Not bad if your average selling price is over 700 per phone. And one assumes the future Iphones will use the technology as well. Not a big risk to Apple financially and might be a big reward.

    5
    November 10, 2022
    • Bart Yee said:
      “With upgraded ground stations, and soon an updated satellite constellation, Apple and Globalstar will ensure the spectrum continues to enable emergency services.”

      This is the key part of the announcement IMO – this codifies Apple’s partnership both contractually and financially with Globalstar for the immediate future. Recall in previous discussions Apple locked up 85% of Globalstar’s network capacity for this and also gave Globalstar significant funding for its 3rd generation satellites to begin replacing aging 2nd Gen satellites. Apple likely help fund these satellites through quiet contracts since 2020.

      At Globalstar, more than 300 employees support the new service.

      “In February 2022, it was announced that Globalstar purchased 17 new satellites to continue its constellation built by MDA and Rocket Lab for $327 million. The satellites are expected to be launched by 2025.[26]”

      Timing seems about right with Apple’s help.

      I also think that Apple wanted the most controllable network and Globalstar fit the bill vs Iridium or StarLink. And since these new satellites will be latest tech and could be fine tuned to Apple’s needs, they’re getting the latest and greatest with a probably design life of at least 15 years. Plus not having to deal with Musk.

      8
      November 10, 2022
      • Bart Yee said:
        This announcement might just spur a bit more interest in the iPhone 14 base and iPhone 14 Plus as less expensive ways to get satellite SOS feature. Or it will increase demand for supply constrained Pro and Pro Max models currently and through Q2 and Q3 when hiking, backpacking, and outdoor season begins in earnest.

        Apple’s timing, as usual, is well planned and impeccable. For US and Canada users, this will be fun. For rest of World, well, make some noise about why don’t you get it, and it’s possible more ground stations around the world would get enhanced. FOMO can drive rollout for additional countries and services expansion. Another “I didn’t know I wanted/needed this” feature by Apple. Will Android claim they were first with this too?

        5
        November 10, 2022
  2. I heard Buzz Lightyear and Ironman need to reach an agreement for this new service to go down.
    Abulafia found this:
    “To use Emergency SOS via satellite, you need an iPhone 14 model. It will also require an iOS 16 software update coming in November 2022.”
    It just added: support.Apple.com Spent 20 years crafting my custom
    AI and the wiley creature is mostly using manufacturer’s support sites… we can search the entire archives of the New York Times, National Geographic, and the Wayback machine, among the massive bookmark set, I gave it access to.
    Wikipedia is only to be used as a last resort.

    0
    November 10, 2022
  3. Will Grover said:
    I was at a state park here in Central Texas over the weekend with no T mobile service, so on my 14 pro the right upper corner text read “SOS” in stead of 5g. I didn’t want to test it, but I assumed it was functional. No…?

    4
    November 10, 2022
    • Bart Yee said:
      Hmmm. Software indicators may be in place but unknown whether truly operational. However, I’ll bet SOS call software is already in iOS 16 for iPhone 14 models only. Just waiting to be activated and revealed by an update. I assume there must be some kind of test mode so you can know the satellite link is capable.

      0
      November 10, 2022
  4. Neal Guttenberg said:
    If I am remembering correctly from the announcement, this is presently a free service for 1 or 2 years. After that time, will this potentially become another billable service for Apple? If so, what would people be willing to pay for it? A buck a month? 10 bucks for the year? Or will this just be an added value to the iphone ecosystem that will be a reason to buy an iPhone vs and Android?

    5
    November 10, 2022
    • Bart Yee said:
      Two years free is already baked into the device purchase. I would think Apple will include this on all subsequent newer models (except SE?) as well. We speculated on the costs after the initial period a few weeks ago and linked below. Lots of options for many ideas – monthly sub (seasonal), annual sub, included in Apple One or iCloud bundles, other services bundles like with Apple TV, etc., or keep it free as an ecosystem enhancement?

      Or better yet, in 2026-27 when most of the new satellites are up and running (assuming availability of launch vehicle dates and success), tie in Satellite 5G and potential 6G??? The mind boggles at the future. Plus I’d love to have Apple SpaceView from Globalstar’s satellites if they just include iPhone 16 ProMax camera arrays hardened for space use.

      ped30 dot com/2022/10/17/apple-satellite-iphone-garmin/

      1
      November 10, 2022
      • I’ve yearned to look at updated trail maps, topos and especially weather info while hiking for days in the Sangre de Cristo Range in So. Colorado. The clear mountain air extends tower range but it hardly matters when you’re camping in a box canyon.

        2
        November 10, 2022
    • Daniel Epstein said:
      Neal, I think your memory is good! I remember two years being free but who knows. The question is what would cost Apple to continue to run the service and what is worthwhile to charge. I could easily see it being folded into the Apple One bundle. If it is a dollar a month it still probably will have 80% profit margin if they have already paid for the hardware to use the service. Could be a similar charge to Icloud storage prices. They can track billing as small as .99 cents a month so shouldn’t cost them too much to make it worthwhile. Unless of course they come up with a premium version of the service which might cost more. Of course given Apple’s move into ads it doesn’t seem like they would be able to pay for the service that way. There are those who think they should give services like this away for free since they already make too much money. (joke)

      1
      November 10, 2022
  5. Christopher McManus said:
    It is hard to reconcile what Apple is doing here vs Starlink’s widely available satellite broadband service

    That would be the real home run. Not sending pre-configured SMS messages to a call center. It seems outdated before it even launches

    I’m sure the technical hurdles are huge, or Apple would have gone that route

    1
    November 10, 2022
    • Steven Philips said:
      That was a big question of mine as well.

      0
      November 10, 2022
  6. T R said:
    This in C2025? See Garmin inReach Mini 2 at $349., and subscription $15. – $35./month

    inReach Mini 2, an active satellite subscription is required. You can opt for an annual package or a flexible month-to-month plan.

    More in C2026.

    0
    November 11, 2022
  7. Brian Loftus said:
    Isn’t competition great…
    So Global star has a minimally viable system now and was probably facing bankruptcy prior to Apple’s financial infusion. They need to launch their third satellite version or they may start losing their current coverage. Even when done, they will have relatively few satellites doing a lot of work. The launcher then need is still unproven. It still needs to prove that it can stick the landing on a regular basis.
    Starlink needs its next generation satellites launched in order to provide the service to TMobile so its not ready yet. Once deployed, it will use more than 10 x the number of satellites. Its launcher is also yet proven but obviously the company has proven it can stick a landing with legs. A failure at landing, however, could damage the launch pad, and really set back the program.
    Am I missing a third competitor?

    0
    November 11, 2022

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