With the iPhone 15, Apple is launching a new service, Roadside Assistance via satellite, in partnership with AAA.
Building on the Emergency SOS and Find My via satellite features introduced with the iPhone 14 and more recent Apple Watch models — which, by the way, are now available in 14 countries and heading to more in the future — Roadside Assistance via satellite allows iPhone 15 and iPhone 14 users to select from one of several scenarios (e.g., “Locked out,” “no fuel or charge,” or “flat tire”) to text an AAA operator even in places where there isn’t a cell signal.
The new Roadside Assistance interface will guide users to connect to a satellite and share their information with a roadside assistance provider. Then the provider will message them directly and, using the user’s GPS location and other data, dispatch help with the right equipment.
Now we’ll have to see how well this works in practice.
Roadside Assistance via satellite, like Emergency SOS and Find My via satellite, differs from the satellite-based data and text connectivity offered by companies like Lynk and T-Mobile via Starlink. While those rely on cell towers strong enough to reach and receive a satellite signal, Roadside Assistance via satellite — via Globalstar — uses bands that normally require a special antenna.
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When we tested Emergency SOS on the iPhone 14 about a year ago, it reliably found a signal through the thick tree branches — but the time to lock on varied from just a few seconds to as long as 10. With all of its satellite-based emergency services, Apple says that lock-on success will depend on a number of factors, including the weather and obstructions (e.g., mountains, steep hills and canyons) in the way of the antenna.
Last year, Apple pledged $450 million through its Advanced Manufacturing Fund toward expanding the infrastructure powering Emergency SOS, Find My via satellite, and now Roadside Assistance via satellite, including the satellite network and ground stations. A part of the funding went toward installing custom-built antennas designed to receive signals transmitted by Globalstar’s satellite constellation.
For new iPhone 15 and iPhone 14 buyers, Roadside Assistance via satellite — a U.S.-only capability, at least for the time being — will be free for those who have an AAA membership for at least two years or available on a “pay-per-use” basis for any non-member customers.
International travelers who purchase iPhones in mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao can’t use Emergency SOS and Find My via satellite. Presumably, the same geo-locking limitation applies to Roadside Assistance via satellite.