Apple has extended free access to Emergency SOS via satellite for an additional year for existing iPhone 14 users. When the company launched Emergency SOS via satellite last year (see “Testing Emergency SOS and Find My via Satellite,” 21 November 2022), it said that Emergency SOS via satellite would be included for free for two years for all iPhone 14 users.
Putting these announcements together, service that was previously scheduled to expire starting 15 November 2024—next year—will now continue through 15 November 2025, roughly when Apple has said iPhone 15 users will lose free access to Emergency SOS via satellite.
Given the success of Emergency SOS via satellite in saving lives—see “Emergency SOS via Satellite Saves Lives in Maui Fires” (10 August 2023)—Apple has found itself in a challenging business position. The utility and PR of Emergency SOS via satellite are fantastic, but the company has invested heavily in the service and is presumably still trying to figure out how to create a revenue stream to leverage that investment. Some numbers:
- In November 2022, Apple pledged $450 million—primarily to satellite service Globalstar—to enhance Globalstar’s satellite network and ground stations.
- In September 2023, TechCrunch reported that Apple is paying 95% of the $64 million in satellite launches that Globalstar has scheduled with SpaceX for 2025.
- TechCrunch also reports that Apple has agreed to “provide $252 million in funding for the upfront costs associated with replenishing the satellite constellation.”
That totals nearly $763 million, even before development and engineering costs, plus costs associated with staffing and maintaining the service.
The tricky part is figuring out how to charge without locking anyone out of the service during an emergency. The best approach might be to create an optional paid service that would offer non-emergency text messaging to fund the emergency calls. Garmin’s inReach satellite subscription plans range from $14.95 to $64.95 per month, with added per-message charges. But is satellite text messaging a billion-dollar market?
Alternatively, could Emergency SOS via satellite be a sufficient competitive advantage over Android smartphones for Apple to eat the costs? No other smartphones currently offer a comparable service. Although Qualcomm said early this year that its new processors and modems would allow phones to communicate with the Iridium satellite network by mid-2023, Iridium just terminated that deal, blaming phone makers for failing to implement the technology.
However, Google is reportedly working on adding support for the Garmin Response network. Plus, SpaceX’s Starlink recently unveiled a page promising satellite connectivity for standard LTE phones, a service first discussed in a 2022 announcement with T-Mobile. So Apple may eventually end up with just a head start rather than being the sole provider of satellite-capable smartphones.