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Calling Emergency Services from a Mobile

112 does not go via satellite

Friday, 25 Apr 2014

By: National Operations

Mobile phone users are reminded that the 112 emergency number widely promoted by some as being available anywhere does not go via satellite networks, and relies on there being a mobile network signal in order to work.

When digital mobile phones were first introduced in Australia the 112 emergency number was promoted as the best number to call as it offered enhanced features not available by calling triple-zero (000). This included the ability to contact emergency services even if your mobile network had no signal at the time, the phone had no SIM card, or the phone was locked.

However, it has now become widely promoted that using 112 will ensure the call is routed via a satellite, ensuring the call will be connected even if there are no mobile phone networks in the area. This could cost someone their life, and has already caused frustration to mobile users wrongly advised, in some cases by emergency services volunteers, that using 112 would ensure the call uses a satellite.

Satellite phones use very different technology than ordinary mobile phones, and it is impossible for an ordinary mobile to communicate with a satellite. This means that the 112 and triple-zero (000) numbers will only work if there is a signal from one of the mobile phone networks in the area you are trying to call from, even if that network is not your own phone provider. For example, if your mobile phone was connected through Company A, but where you are only Company B networks have a signal, then the network of Company B would be used. When GSM digital was first introduced this feature was only available by dialling 112, with triple-zero (000) being connected like any ordinary call and requiring a signal from your own provider.

Modern networks now provide the same enhanced services when you dial triple-zero (000) as well as 112, so there should be no real advantage to using 112 in Australia, although if you can’t get through on triple-zero (000) you should always try 112. As long as there is a signal from any of the mobile phone networks, dialing either number should get you through to the emergency services, even if you don’t have a signal from your own provider. This is often seen when the phone displays “Emergency Only” or just “Emergency” when you go outside of the coverage area of your network, but are still within range of another provider.

For more information on calling emergency services from a mobile phone, refer to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) - Calling the Emergency Services from a mobile phone FAQ.

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