How to fix a cell phone that says Emergency Calls Only

Has your Android cell phone started displaying Emergency Calls Only? Does your phone no longer have service? Can you no longer make or receive calls or message others? Well there is little point in owning a cell phone if it has no service. This guide will provide some suggestions and advice on what you can do with your android phone to try and get it out of Emergency calls only and working properly once again.

Before we begin

There are so many factors that can cause a cell phone to display Emergency Calls Only and fixing this problem can be a real challenge. As I am sure you already know… It can be a software issue (which we want it to be as a software problem can be the easiest to fix), it can be a hardware issue where an actual physical piece of the device is malfunctioning (often difficult to fix), it can be a problem with the wireless network itself (which is also difficult as this is usually outside of your control), the location, a feature on the wireless account, the list of possible causes can go on and on which makes this issue one of the hardest problems to try to fix on an Android cell phone.

This guide will concentrate primarily on what you can do to fix your cell phone so take ALL the advice listed on this page into consideration when troubleshooting this issue. 

Power cycle your cell phone

Power your phone off, leave it off for 30 seconds to a minute, and then power the phone back on. Wait for the phone to power on all the way and then try your cell phone to see if it’s working properly. Restarting the phone will force it to try and reach out and attempt to connect to your network again. If it was just a hiccup with the software this extremely simple reboot can fix the issue.

Second level reset

If power cycling didn’t fix the issue then power your phone on and while it’s on remove its battery. This is a type of “soft reset” that can also fix minor software issues on Android phones. Just make sure to have the phone unplugged from its charger and to pull the battery out of the phone while the phone is on and running.

Some cell phones are not designed to have a removable battery. If your phone is one of these types of cell phones then you will not be able to perform a second level reset and you can move onto the next step in troubleshooting.

Check the SIM card

Be aware that not all cell phones have SIM cards. If your phone doesn’t have or require a SIM card to function properly then you can skip this portion of the article. If your phone does require a SIM card then read this section as problems with a SIM card can certainly cause problems with your service.

A SIM card or (Subscriber Identity Module) is used by some cell phones to connect or communicate with the phones wireless service provider. SIM cards are not bound to the phone and contain the subscriber’s information including their telephone number and on a side note can also be used by the user to save contacts to as well. A SIM card is NOT a memory card or SD card but it is a very important factor in some phones when they are getting an Emergency Calls Only error message as it is the thing that connects a phone to the mobile network.

If you were to remove the SIM card from a phone that was working perfectly fine then that phone would no longer have any service and would display an Emergency Calls Only error message. So check your SIM, if your phone has one, and make sure that there is no signs of damage and that the connectors are clean.

For extra measure you can remove the SIM card and clean off the connectors with a pink eraser. Just make sure the SIM is nice and clean and that there are no signs of damage. If there are signs of damage or defect or the tips on the rest of the article don’t seem to help fix your device then you should head down to the closest store that sells your phone and get a replacement SIM. So if your ATT phone was displaying Emergency Calls only then you would go to an AT&T store for a replacement SIM card, if it was a T-Mobile phone then a T-Mobile store, etc.

If you are using a SIM card that you have had for a while, which can be common as SIM cards can be used from phone to phone, then you might want to get a replacement anyways. Replacing your SIM card every couple of years is usually a pretty good practice as it will keep your SIM up to date with the latest technologies.

Best way to test a SIM card

If someone else in your family or social network has the same service provider as you do then you can also try your SIM card in their phone and there SIM card in your phone to try and pinpoint whether it’s a software or hardware problem. If you remove the SIM card from your phone and insert it into their phone and their phone works fine you can rule out the SIM card as the problem. If you put your SIM card into their phone and their phone loses service and displays Emergency Calls Only then you will know it’s a bad SIM, you can get a replacement, and be good to go.

Location

Does this happen everywhere and is it a constant issue? If not and it only happen in specific locations then chances are this issue is due to a poor signal from your wireless network in that area and will be outside of your control.

If its constant and other people in the area are not having any problems with their service then continue reading.

Search for networks

Try going to your phones “Settings”, then tap “Wireless and Networks” (note: you might have to tap “More networks” depending on the cell phones version of Android), tap “Mobile networks”, then tap “Network operators” and then if available tap on “Search networks”.

Power the phone off and then on and see if your service has returned.

If your Android phone has its “Network operators” choice grayed out and does not allow you to open it to search for networks then this setting on your phone is likely setup properly and you can skip this step in troubleshooting.

Lost or stolen

If your phone was reported lost or stolen then your service provider is likely to block that phones IP address and prevent it from having service much less allow it to make and receive calls. Wireless service providers do not want stolen phones to function properly as it encourages fraud and theft, so if a phone is marked lost or stolen its likely to allow one type of call from that point forward and that is emergency calls only.

Unless you or someone that has access to your account reported the phone as lost or stolen then chances are that it wasn’t listed as such. If you feel that this might be the case then you can find out if your phone was reported stolen by contacting your wireless provider and asking them about the status of your device.

Physical design

Cell phones don’t tend to have visible antennas any more but that doesn’t mean that antennas are any less important today as they have always been as far as signal strength. Some phones have their antennas built into the back plate of the phone and if the back plate is removed or damaged then no more antenna and no more service.

So if the battery cover no longer fits snug or properly on your phone then you might need to contact the manufacture and see if you can purchase a replacement back plate.

Physical or liquid damage

If your phone was dropped recently or exposed to liquid around the time that this problem started then the phone might be damaged and if this is the case replacement might be necessary. Most phones have an LDI (Liquid Damage Indicator) that changes colors if the phone is ever exposed to enough moisture to cause damage.

If you are not sure if your phone was exposed to moisture you can locate your cell phones LDI and if it’s any color other that white or white with Xs on it then it indicates moisture and has a high chance of liquid damage. Usually if an LDI is exposed to moisture or gets wet it will change from a white to a red or pink color, so if your LDI is red or pink then your LDI has been activated, your phone is out of warranty, and you might have located the cause of the problem.

Replacements

If you get a replacement phone because your original phone has no service and your replacement phone is having the same issue then it is highly likely that the issue is NOT the result of a faulty device but a problem with the network or location that you are in.

Time place and environment

Congestion can cause issues with service as well. If you are in rush hour traffic or in a highly populated area or at an event with a lot of people and there is no service or extremely poor service then there is a good chance that there are just too many people using the tower(s) in the area and wireless service can be difficult to hold onto. This doesn’t usually cause emergency calls only but it can certainly affect your phones service.

Weather and natural disasters

This is one of the more unlikely causes but I thought that I would mention that snow, rain, hail, wind, and nature in general can certainly effect whether a cell phone has service or not. Natural disasters are some of the worst causes of service related problems and are often outside of anyone’s control.

Hopefully this isn’t the cause of your issue or the service problems in your area but I thought I would just point out that Mother Nature can cause some extreme damage and doesn’t care for one second about whether your phone has service or not. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 it knocked out hundreds of cell towers and local residents were without dependable service for months. If you have no wireless service during or after a natural disaster then waiting might be the only option available.

Try to contact your wireless provider if you are left without service while towers are being repaired. You’re paying for a service and although it is not the wireless carriers fault that their towers were damaged or require maintenance it is not your fault either and there is no point in paying for a service that you are unable to use.

Software issues

Now for the fun part; something you can actually troubleshoot yourself to try and fix.

Applications

Software issues on Android phones are often related to a bad third party application that was downloaded and installed on the phone by the phones owner/user. If you recently downloaded an application around the time that this started happening on your cell phone then I highly recommend you uninstall the app from your phone as that is most likely the cause of the problem. The same goes for an application that might have recently updated as well.

Firmware and software updates

If there is an update available for your cell phone then make sure to upgrade your phone to the latest version of Android or the most current software available. This goes the same for any applications on your device that might need to be updated as well.

Check your cell phones IMEI

This is such an extremely rare cause that I almost hesitate to add it to the list but check your Android phones IMEI number to make sure that it is correct.

To access your phones IMEI number you can open your dial pad as though you were going to dial a telephone number and instead of typing in a telephone number type in *#06#. The IMEI number should automatically pop up.

You can compare the IMEI number that displays on the screen to the IMIE that’s printed on a sticker on the phone which is usually located under the phones battery or in the cell phones SIM compartment. The IMEI number on the display might have a couple of extra digits compared to the printed IMEI but if the IMEIs don’t match up then there is a problem with your phones identity and it’s likely that your wireless providers towers are not communicating with your phone properly and the phone will likely need to be replaced.

If you get an UNKNOWN error or the screen pops up but there is no number displayed then reboot the phone and try it again. If it displays UNKNOWN or the IMEI field is blank a second time then try to check your IMEI with *#06# and then through the phones settings. You can review How to find the IMEI number on the Samsung Galaxy S 4 for a visual demonstration on how to locate your phones IMIE. If this UNKNOWN pops up in place of your IMEI then look into your warranty or replacement options as your cell phone is defective. This is so extremely rare though, like I said before it’s almost not worth bringing up.

Glitch bug or virus

Sometimes things happen that are outside of our control or sometimes might end up on our phones by accident. If a bad application or a file was downloaded online that put something bad on the phone it can be hard to track that file down and properly remove it from the device. Even removing a bad app does not guarantee that it didn’t leave something behind designed to cause trouble on the phone.

Viruses are not overly common on the Android OS (Operating System) yet but our Android phones are mini computers and as such they sometimes require a little cleaning

Cleaning up the phone

An almost surefire way to resolve software related issues on an Android cell phone is to perform a factory data reset also known as a hard reset. A hard reset erases everything from the phone and puts it back to its factory default settings.

So a hard reset will wipe out any software bugs, glitches, viruses, bad apps etc. but it will also erase all user data as well. So make sure to backup all the information on your phone first before doing the hard reset that way you will not lose any of the important information that’s saved on your Android cell phone. If you would like help with the backup process you can read How to backup and reset an Android phone for detailed instructions about the backup process.

Additional tips and tricks that MIGHT help

Here are a few more things that a person can attempt to try to get the Emergency calls only error message to go away. These tricks are not usually permanent solutions and are often, if anything, just a band aid to get the phone working properly, even if just temporarily, but I thought I would just mention them for good measure.

Airplane mode trick

Activate the “Airplane mode” feature on your cell phone and then turn it off. Make a call and see if the phone was able to reach out, connect to the network, and make a call.

Remove the SD card

Unlike SIM cards memory cards rarely cause issues on cell phones and when they do cause problems its even less likely to be network related; but for good measure and to rule out another possible cause you can power the phone off, remove its memory card (if it has one), and then power the phone back on. Try the phone to see if removing the SD card fixed the Emergency calls only issue.

If it did resolve the issue then reboot the phone with its memory card inserted again to see if the “Emergency calls only” error pops up again. If it does then you found the culprit and you should try a different SD card or try the SD card in a different cell phone to see if the memory card is faulty or if it’s a problem with the phone itself.

Prepaid - Out of time

If your cell phone is prepaid then check to make sure that you have minutes or days left on your service. Cell phones that no longer have any service can still make emergency calls and can make a good emergency phone for your vehicle but you won’t be able to make normal calls without paying for the wireless service.

Contact your wireless service provider

If you have tried the suggestions in the guide above, including a factory data reset, and still have no service and are seeing an Emergency calls only message then this issue is probably not because of your phone but is likely the result of a problem with your wireless service itself.

That doesn’t just mean a possible problem with a nearby tower either, service related issues can mean a problem with your account or even a feature on one of the lines on your wireless account.

So call the customer support for your wireless provider and let them know that this is happening on your phone. Have your phone with you just in case they ask for information to be read from the phone, like your phones IMEI number.

Be patient but firm

This is one of the most frustrating issues to have on a cell phone because it could be a feature on the account that needs updating or changing, which might be one department, or it could be the network such as a problem with a tower and you might get transferred to a tech department, who might say it’s a phone issue and transfer you to a warranty department, who might want to transfer you to the manufacture, who points out that no service needs to be handled by your Service Provider so the manufacture transfers you back to your wireless carrier where you get to start all over again.

Don’t get me wrong your main goal is to fix your issue NOT to simply get a replacement device. If you have a problem that’s related to an issue with your account or the network then a replacement phone is going to have the exact same problem as your current phone is having, so you might have to speak to a few departments while your service provider tries to locate the cause of your problem.

If you feel like you are getting tossed around, which can happen, especially with this issue, then consider going into an actual store and speaking to a representative in person.

A store representative may not be the best person to go to when it comes to troubleshooting but they can often replace a SIM card right then and there and if that doesn’t solve the problem (if the phone uses a SIM) then they can get the right department on the line when it comes to solving these types of issues. Store reps don’t put up with getting the run around very often either. Just mention that you have been having communication problems when you speak to someone from customer service and have the store representative do most of the talking.

Try not to leave the store until the problem is resolved or a solution is in progress. Just be nice, polite and reasonable and you shouldn’t have any problems getting your device fixed or replaced. Remember that if you get a replacement and the replacement has the same issue right out of the box (no added apps etc) then it’s going to be a SIM or service issue and you should contact your service provider as soon as you find out that the replacement has the same issue.

Review – How to fix a phone with No service and Emergency calls only

So a quick recap of what you can do when your phone has no service and displays Emergency Calls Only.

  • Surroundings – consider your current environment and location trying to bear in mind any possible causes.
  • Power cycle – power the phone off for 30+ seconds and then power it back on.
  • Battery pull – if possible remove the battery from the phone while the phone is powered on. After 30+ seconds reinsert the battery and power the phone back on.
  • Airplane mode – switch Airplane Mode on and then after a few seconds switch it back off.
  • Check the SIM – if your cell phone has a SIM card then make sure that it’s inserted correctly, that it’s clean and functioning properly.
  • Check your Apps – the most common cause of problems on Android phones are app related. Make sure that none of your recently added, updated or out of date apps are causing issues.
  • Reset – often the best solution available for software related issues on an Android cell phone is a hard reset.
  • Contact your Wireless Carrier – Sometimes you won’t be able to solve this issue yourself as it can be a problem on the network or a problem with your wireless account. So contact your wireless service provider and let them know about your problem. After all if you cannot make and receive calls then what is the purpose of owning a cell phone?

Emergency calls only and no service can be one of the most frustrating problems to have on a cell phone but if you follow this guide then you will be one step ahead when trying to locate the actual cause and of course get your phone working properly again.

If you found this article helpful or would simply like to let me know you liked it then don’t hesitate to hit the Facebook Like button or Google + buttons below. Thanks for reading and have a fantastic day.

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