A couple of readers got in touch with me the other day wondering why a satellite icon and the words SOS suddenly appeared on their iPhones, in the status bar at the top. They’d not seen it before and were worried that their iPhone was making an emergency SOS call and they could be billed for it, or get into trouble.
If you have one of these handsets and live in the US, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, or the UK, you can test this out by tapping on Settings > Emergency SOS, scrolling to the bottom of the page to Emergency SOS via Satellite and tapping on Try Demo.
But this isn’t what was happening here.
Now, I’m a heavy iPhone user my iPhone 14 Pro Max barely leaves my hand — and I’d not seen this, which got me wondering if it was some kind of specific bug.
After a bit of back and forth, I came up with a way that I could replicate this.
- I had to be outside of a cellular and Wi-Fi coverage (I had Wi-Fi turned off), either in the wilds or in a building.
- Have a mapping app such as Google Maps or Waze running (it might work with other apps, but this is what worked for me).
- Wait! It may or may not pop up.
And there it is!
In the Control Center panel, I can only see a satellite.
I reached out to Apple technical support about this issue, and after having some tests carried out on my iPhone, I was told its normal behavior, even though no emergency SOS call is being made and no data can be sent or received over the satellite network (other than when making a genuine emergency SOS call).
I asked if there was a chance that this would cost me money or get me into some sort of trouble because my handset was looking like it was making an SOS satellite call, and I was told there was no danger of that.
Also: Best satellite phones
So, if you see “SOS satellite” appearing on your iPhone, don’t panic. It’s likely happening because you’re out of signal coverage, but you’re not actually making an SOS call, and you won’t get billed or get into trouble.
As to whether this is a bug or a feature, I’m not sure. Maybe Apple is testing something. Maybe it’s something to do with Find My. Maybe it’s something strange happening when running mapping apps.