What does 'SOS only' mean on iOS 16 and how do you turn it off?

Alexandra Ciufudean September 20, 2022
What does 'SOS only' mean on iOS 16 and how do you turn it off?


Is your iPhone stuck in SOS only mode since upgrading to iOS 16 last week? You’re not alone.

After Apple released its latest operating system upgrade, iOS 16, many users began reporting a weird feature – or is it a bug? The message “SOS only” appeared in the top right corner of their screen and seemed to limit their network coverage.

iOS 16 boasts a number of new and improved safety features, including Emergency SOS and Safety Check, but this doesn’t seem to be part of either.

So, what is SOS only mode and, if your iPhone is stuck in it, how can you fix it?

Photo by Penfer on Unsplash

What does ‘SOS only’ mean on iOS 16?

If your iPhone is displaying “SOS only” in the top right corner of your screen, where the signal bar would normally be, it could be due to a few reasons.

Firstly, this could be happening because you are outside the range of your regular service provider. This usually means you are out somewhere remote, hiking or working far away from areas with phone coverage.

Displaying the “SOS only” message in this case is your carrier’s way of letting you know you can only make calls to emergency services.

“Essentially roaming,” one user suggested on a Reddit thread dedicated to the issue, but for emergency calls.

Secondly, an “SOS only” message on iOS 16 can mean you’ve accidentally pressed the wrong buttons.

One of the most talked about iOS 16 features is Emergency SOS, which allows you to contact emergency services if you’re in need of help. This is done either by pressing and holding your iPhone’s side button and one of the volume buttons or pressing only the side button five times in a row.

If you’ve accidentally done this – hello, pocket dialling! – you might have ended up stuck in SOS only mode.

Other, less frequent reasons include flashing or jailbreaking your iPhone or software issues.

Users report iPhone stuck in ‘SOS only’ mode after iOS 16 update

Additionally, many users have noticed their iPhones are stuck in SOS only mode after upgrading to iOS 16 and wondering what that could mean.

Judging from complaints shared on social media, Apple users on a variety of different networks have encountered this issue.

Some took to Twitter to alert their providers, while others seem to have been struggling with the abrupt switch to SOS only mode to no avail.

So, if you are one of the many users whose device is stuck in SOS only mode after upgrading to iOS 16, what does it mean? Aside from contacting Apple yourself, how can you fix this?

How to quit SOS only mode on your iPhone

It seems there are as many answers to this conundrum as there are iOS upgrades. However, we’ve waded through them and collected a few of the soundest pieces of advice so you don’t have to.

Firstly, we must note sometimes the issue resolves itself when your carrier’s signal comes back online or becomes strong enough for your phone to pick up on again. But if that doesn’t happen, here are a few options.

According to Apple’s own help forum, you can exit SOS only mode by following these steps down to the letter:

  • Press and quickly release Volume UP button
  • Press and quickly release Volume DOWN button
  • Press and Hold the SIDE button until an Apple logo appears and then release the Side button

They note it can take up to 20 seconds for the logo to appear, warning that you should NOT release the side button when invited to slide power off.

You can also reset your phone’s network settings, which some Twitter users say worked for them.

Another popular solution is to turn off your iPhone and plug it in to charge for at least an hour. Sometimes, your device may freeze if it doesn’t have enough power and this is an easy fix.

If the problem still persists and even restarting your iPhone via the first method doesn’t work, it may be time to bring in the big guns.

This means restoring your iPhone via your most recent iTunes backup. Beware, though, that this method can cause some data loss.

To do this, you need to connect your device to a computer with the most recent version of iTunes installed. Then, launch iTunes and enter the passcode or verify you trust your computer when prompted.

Once in the iTunes window, click on the Device icon and then select Restore iPhone. On the prompt window, click on Restore again and wait for your device to be restored.

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Alexandra is Head of Entertainment at The Focus, managing a growing team of outstanding graduate and experienced writers. She has worked previously as an editor, writer and content specialist across web, video and social platforms and has a bachelor's in English Linguistics and a master's in Comparative Literature.