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Apple Watch LTE can make 911 and emergency calls without a carrier plan

Apple Watch LTE

A Reddit user recently discovered that an LTE enabled Apple Watch can make emergency calls even without a connected phone or even a carrier plan. In an interesting thread, our enterprising Redditor describes how he turned off his iPhone and router and attempted to call an Emergency Services number only to come up empty. Determined, he contacted an Apple Care rep who eventually reached out to Apple engineers for a definitive answer.

According to the post, Apple engineers relayed back that the LTE Apple Watch “should be capable of making SOS calls even if cellular service has never been linked/activated, same as a phone.” This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given that cellular capable devices can make emergency calls even when a cellular connection is turned off.

After updating the Apple Watch to watchOS 4.2, the Redditor tried calling an emergency services number again and still had no luck connecting. Subsequently, an Apple representative told him to give it upwards of 5 minutes.

The thread reads in part:

After almost three minutes of nothing, it started to ring, and 911 picked up.

I imagine this behavior is the same on older versions of watchOS also (like when I originally tested), I probably just didn’t wait long enough. I still submitted my diagnostics, because really 2+ minutes for a call to start connecting seems extremely excessive, but the ultimate takeaway here is if you are somewhere without your phone and have to call 911, it WILL WORK, it’s just slow. Hopefully it can be improved with a software update. I am told I will receive an update from the engineers once they check out my logs.

Interestingly enough, a stranded kitesurfer recently used his LTE Apple Watch to call for help after becoming stranded in shark-infested waters off the coast of California. It may sound trite, but the Apple Watch can really help save lives.

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.