iPhone 15’s Satellite Feature won’t be Available in India Anytime Soon

iPhone’s share in the Indian market is just 5% compared to 52% in the United States
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Apple’s newly launched iPhone 15 got a new, additional feature for its SOS satellite service – emergency roadside assistance. However, India isn’t getting this anytime soon even though the country has this technology ready. Last year, when Apple introduced iPhone 14, it came with an emergency SOS via satellite feature, which allows users to send out SOS text messages to emergency operators when they’re off the grid, i.e bereft of any cellular or Wi-Fi service. That feature, too, was unfortunately not available in India. 

Emergency SOS via satellite 

Let’s say, you have gone hiking and are lost in the middle of nowhere. The icing on the cake, you have no network. In such a scenario, you can still use your iPhone to contact emergency services by connecting to a satellite. The company has invested $450 million and partnered with Globalstar to use 85% of its satellite network to power this feature. Globalstar has 24 satellites deployed in low-earth orbit (roughly 2,000 kms above the earth), which the iPhone can connect to. 

The feature will ask you to calibrate your phone and point it towards the nearest satellite, as shown in the picture above. Once you’ve successfully connected to the satellite, it will relay the emergency message to the nearest emergency room or the Apple relay centre. 

Satellite connectivity in India

In India, Hughes Communications, a joint venture between Hughes Network Systems and Airtel, provides this type of technology, which Apple and other phone companies can take advantage of. Hughes is the largest satellite operator in India. One of the services it provides is ‘Managed Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellite Service’, which is similar to Globalstar’s service in the US. 

“We already have satellite connectivity technology available in India. If Apple comes up for clearance on this then we are ready, but they have to tie up with a satellite operator,” said Suneel Kumar Niraniyan, DDG (Satellite), Department of Telecommunications (DoT), speaking to The Hindu

Hughes launched India’s first high throughput satellite broadband service on Monday with the help of Indian Space Research Organisation. This service is competing directly with Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink service. 

The Bitter Truth 

India’s emergency response system still remains fragmented with each state having its own emergency number. For instance, Karnataka has six different emergency contact numbers for multiple situations. Furthermore, private hospitals maintain their own emergency numbers which adds to the confusion. 

On the other hand, the 911 system in the US is centralised, tested and fail proof. There, public-private collaboration in emergency response is well-defined and synchronised. This is the reason Apple, along with companies like Garmin, can provide services like Emergency SOS via satellite. 

Another reason is, iPhone’s share in the Indian market is just 5 percent compared to 52 percent in the United States. Therefore it doesn’t make sense for Apple to invest millions of dollars here when there are not enough people to use this feature. 

Apple’s India story 

Apple is all set to release the iPhone 15 models, assembled in India. This comes as a first as the company is shifting its manufacturing hub from China to India amid geo-politcal tensions. It aims to manufacture 25 percent of all its iPhones in India by 2025. CEO Tim Cook emphasised the need to take advantage of the ‘Make in India’ program by the Union government.

Apple has also added NavIC to its navigation support on its 15 Pro models. Navigation with Indian constellation (NavIC) is India’s home-grown navigation system developed by ISRO. “The satellite connectivity on a phone is at a very early stage. So, we should not be over excited by it, “ said Shivaji Chatterjee, SVP and business head of the enterprise business unit at Hughes Communications, India. 

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Pranav Kashyap
As a financial journalist, Pranav covers various beats from Technology, Telecom and Companies. He follows the money trail, and dives deep into how companies utilize their funds. He loves to travel and is an aviation geek.

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