Apple’s Message via satellite works just like iMessage — and it’ll be free to start with

Image showing iPhone with iMessage app open
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

It’s no secret Emergency SOS via satellite has been a great success for Apple. Ever since it launched back in late 2022, there have been countless reports of people being able to use satellite connectivity to call for help. So it’s no surprise iOS 18 will expand that feature and offer satellite text messaging services as well.

The best part about Emergency SOS via satellite is that it’s been completely free so far. Originally Apple offered the service for a single year, then expanded that to two years after those 12 months were almost up. We had wondered whether Message via satellite would be the same, and it seems this is the case.

According to CNET, Message via satellite will be a free feature “at least for now”. Apple hasn’t elaborated on that, but it suggests that, like Emergency SOS via satellite, the service may not be free forever. However since we still don’t know how much Emergency SOS via satellite is going to cost, or when users might be asked to pay for the service, we can’t guess how things might change for its text messaging counterpart.

However the good news is that Message via satellite won’t require any specialist hardware. Apple confirmed to CNET that it will be rolling out as a software update, though it will be limited to phones that already have satellite connectivity. That means iPhone 14, iPhone 15 and presumably the upcoming iPhone 16.

While the system uses satellites rather than regular cell signals, it’s very similar to the regular iMessage system and includes both Tapback reactions and emoji support. The limits haven’t been specified, though I suspect that Apple won’t be letting you clog up bandwidth with anything bigger than that — like video and image files.

The key thing here is that this isn’t an emergency feature, and you can text friends and family as you normally would. Which means you can stay connected with people in areas when you’d otherwise be on your own. Anyone using iMessage will also be able to message you as normal, but SMS, which is also supported, will be limited.

According to Apple emergency contacts you’ve already set up can message you freely via SMS. However anyone else won’t be able to contact you via satellite unless you initiate the conversation first. RCS messaging won’t be supported when that launches on iOS 18, though. Simply because it hasn’t been optimized to account for satellite messaging’s smaller transfer limits.

Message via satellite will be launching in the United States later this year, while other regions  will have to wait a little bit longer. Meanwhile Android users will start getting access to similar services, with Android 15 offering support for phone calls and text messaging via satellite on compatible devices.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.