"Emergency service only"

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Last month, using an Android phone on ATT, a Gophone,, I tried to call my nephew on his home phone (FWIW, he has no cell phone.) But it appears his father changed the phone number when I wasn't looking, so I had the wrong number. I called and it changed to the screen it uses during dialing, but a moment after that it changed to some other screen and clearly wasn't dialing. The possible dialing period was only a second or two. But I got no message, no cell phone equivalent of "The number you have reached is not available." I was using a headset but I got nothing aural either.
I did this 3 times and after the third time, a message displayed on the top line (the notification line) that said "Emergency service only" or almost that. Isn't that the message they give when someone hasn't paid his bill, or he's switched his contract to a newer phone and the older phone is only useful to call the police, fire, ambulance?
I assumed what had happened is that I buy 100 dollar gophone cards that last for 365 days, and that the time period had expired (I hadn't made other calls that day, none since the previous day.)
If the message doesn't mean that I'm no longer eligible to make phone calls, what does it mean?
I was in the basement of a new, 10-story building, so there was some iron above me, but if I had no bars and no signal, there would have been no cryptic "Emergency service only" message either, right??
Later in the day the phone worked fine.
Thanks a lot for any help you can give.
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micky wrote:

That's the message I get when there's not a cell tower in range . We get it a lot out here in the woods ... no coverage at all down here in The Holler . It's spotty on the road into town .
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wrote:

Thanks.
But if there's no cell tower in range, then there's no emergency service either, right? Or maybe, is there some data signal that takes less signal strength than a voice signal does, but represents an emergency? Maybe ...---... ...---...?

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On 06/16/2015 09:21 PM, micky wrote:

Maybe the OP was out of range of an AT&T tower at that moment (propagation is not constant even if he was standing in the same spot) but within range of some other phone company's tower -- Verizon? (which I understand has the best coverage, although it's not what I use, because of the cost).
Perce
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On 06/16/2015 08:39 PM, Percival P. Cassidy wrote:
[snip]

AT&T works on the highway in front of Kroger (about a mile away), butis almost unusable at my house. Getting a signal at all requires being on the south side of the yard (closest to the highway), and calls are likely to be dropped (even if I do stand on one foot and hold the phone over the fence).
I use Verizon, which works decently here.
I have gotten the "Emergency Service Only" message once. Possibly because the cell tower here was overloaded.
That (cell towers overloaded) happened after the tornado that came through here May 25.
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Yes, during overloads, they probably give priority to 911 calls. I would hope so. Even dropping calls in progress if they need the famous "bandwidth".
I don't know if I mentioned it on either of these ngs, but I was just outside Madison Square Garden about a month ago, and her mother and I could call my niece, and my niece could call the two of us, but neither her mother nor I could call each other.
My niece told me she had ATT until the storm surge that hit NYC about 3 years, and neither she nor her girlfriends could make a cellphone call after that, except one who had Verizon. (This is probably a large part of where Verizon in NY got its good reputation.) So she and her mother signed up with Verizon, and they have phone numbers 10 or 20 apart.
So at MSG I think maybe both Verizon and ATT were letting us call, but not relaying the call and just sending it to voice mail. This would cut the number of circuits needed by half, and people wouldn't talk as long either.

Well that seems fair. You have to give them a pass after each tornado.
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On 06/17/2015 01:28 PM, micky wrote:
[sip]

I did. Wires were down all over town, so most people could not use their wired phones. I suppose most of the calls then (just a few minutes after the tornado) were people checking on friends and relatives.
BTW, I gave up on reporting the power outage, when it became obvious that too many people were doing so.
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On 6/16/2015 5:28 PM, Terry Coombs wrote:
<snip> > That's the message I get when there's not a cell tower in range . We get it

You should be getting "No Service" not "Emergency Service Only." The phone is connecting to a tower that you are not allowed to roam onto but they have to allow emergency service. In most cases it's T-Mobile being unable to roam onto AT&T, or a Sprint phone on one of Sprint's prepaid services or on a Sprint MVNO.
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On Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 10:00:53 AM UTC-4, sms wrote:

And this must vary from one cell phone company to another. I had Verizon for 20+ years and never saw "emerg service only", despite traveling in various areas. And have had Virgin Mobile now, which rides on Sprint for 1+ years and never saw it on this phone either.
There are other things that vary too. One annoying thing with this VM system is that they send of emergency warning system texts that set off an urgent warning buzzer kind of sound. I've had maybe two that were legitimate severe storm or flash flood warnings. All the rest have been tests. And some times, like yesterday they did 4 test texts during the day. It can go for weeks without a test, then a day like yesterday, the phone is going nuts. Very annoying.
For that matter, those tests of the TV emergency warning system are annoying too. I watch TV sometimes when I can't sleep and they must test that damn thing every week. Yet, in decades, I have yet to see it display a real warning. And in this day and age, you would think they could test it without actually having to send a full actual message for 30 secs.
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On 06/18/2015 09:56 AM, trader_4 wrote:
[anip]

I get warnings on my Verizon phone. Some are desirable (there was a warning for last month's tornado, although I wish it was more than about 45 seconds in advance). Most are annoying.

So, when you hear that tone, the first thing you think of is that it's a test, not that it's a possible emergency.
Same thing with the fire drills at school. The first think I think of when that alarm sounds is NOT that the building's on fire.
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On Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 11:50:37 AM UTC-4, Mark Lloyd wrote:

A friend has ATT, says he never gets those warning texts. I think it's a good idea, I just don't see why they have to keep testing the damn thing. It's a broadcast text message that goes through the regular, obviously working text system. Why you would have to test that 4x in a single day, IDK.
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On Thu, 18 Jun 2015 09:05:49 -0700 (PDT), trader_4

My last phone (HTC) had the warnings but allowed me to turn them off. Likewise the wife's iPhone. My current phone (Kyocera) has no warning capability.
Like you the damn phones would often go off at all hours for tests and for stuff that didn't affect my area. I was glad to be rid of the service.
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What did you do with those 45 seconds?
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On 06/19/2015 08:18 PM, micky wrote:
[snip]

Since I was in a brick house, there wasn't much I needed to do. There was just enough time to bring Nibbles (http://notstupid.us/include/picviewer.php/anything/cat.5 ) in.
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On Thu, 18 Jun 2015 07:56:40 -0700 (PDT), trader_4

That's a good point. I've been seeing those warnings for maybe 50 years, and they used to take a whole minute. Now they take about 10 seconds, but despite their saying "If this were a real emergency, you would be instructed where in your area to tune" for emegency information, that has never happened. Ever.
Admittedly, Baltimore, Brooklyn, and other places I've lived don't have that many emergencies, and I don't watch tv all the time, but it still seems like I've been conned.

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wrote:

Then doesn't that mean I was getting the right message? "They have to allow emergency service" and the message says Emergency Service Only.

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On 6/16/2015 5:55 PM, micky wrote:

It is because you can connect to a tower, but not the one from your service provider. Happens once in a while depending on where you are. You can reach 91, but not other numbers.
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Ed Pawlowski wrote:

Thanks Ed , I was wondering how I could have emergency service when I couldn't make or receive a call .
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Aha. That accounts for everything. Thanks for your wise advice.
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Just to expand on this a bit. Per FCC regs, if your phone can physically connect to a cellular system (right frequencies, strength, ptotocols), then even if you don't have an account with that company (or in the case of a SIM card phone, even if the card is missing...) then the cellco will let you make a 911 call.
So if you've got an account with company A and you're broken down on the highway in the middle of nowhere, and the only signal is from comapny D, then you won't be able to call AAA or your brother-in-law, but you will be able to reach 911.
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