There are few greater annoyances in the modern world – serious #firstworldproblems here – than having zero coverage, and thus your phone showing up as being able to make ’emergency calls only’ (or, if you’re an Apple user, ‘SOS only’).
That is unless, of course, you are in an emergency situation, in which case those three little words are everything you wanted in the world.
But how can it be that your phone has zero coverage, yet is still able to connect to emergency services?
Well, it tends to be that it’s not that there is zero coverage, merely that your particular carrier does not have service in your location.
Chris Althaus from the Australia Mobile Telecommunications Association explained that ’emergency calls only’ means you’re only really able to piggyback on to a different carrier.
“‘SOS only’ typically means that your phone is outside the coverage area of the service providers you’re contracted to; however, if you are still within range of somebody’s mobile network, you will still be able to make a triple-zero call,” he told the ABC.
From a couple of years ago:
Djibouti migrants try to capture cheap cell signals from Somalia to call relatives (Photo: John Stanmeyer) pic.twitter.com/TfUSXZKgq1
— Rabih Alameddine (@rabihalameddine) January 11, 2018
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) explains that “special roaming capabilities” make it possible for your phone to acccess a different carrier.
However, ACMA also warns that it’s possible that there can simply be no coverage – a point Althaus also wanted to emphasise.
“The coverage is the critical thing — if there’s no coverage, then no mobile will work,” he said.
“If you’re heading to the outback, you might want to consider other options, like two-way radio, CB radio, high-frequency radios, or have a flare with you… you shouldn’t rely on having your phone with you, because it might not work.”
It’s worth noting, however, that while being out of credit or failing to pay your phone bill will likely see your provider cut your service, you can still access emergency services from your phone in these situations.
As for situations where you can get through to emergency services, but don’t know where you are, ACMA recommends using the Emergency+ smartphone app to call Triple Zero (000).
“The app provides you with your GPS coordinates which you can tell the emergency call-taker, allowing them to pinpoint your location,” ACMA explains.