Mobile Phone

Mobile Phone

Dialling 999 from your mobile is the first and foremost emergency communication method that you should use

Mobile Phone 

Mobile Phone - Voice

There’s no doubt that mobile phones have saved lives in the hills, but there is a danger that people can become over reliant on their phone, perhaps in the expectation that it will always work. The reality is that in the mountains, mobile phone signal strength is almost certainly weak when compared to more urban settings, particularly in low level remote valleys where there may be no signal at all.

Poor Signal & Higher Ground

If you need to make an emergency call but have a poor or no signal, moving location by just a few feet can make a difference. Check the signal strength metre of the phone. Moving to higher and a more open location will give a better chance of having a signal. Once you find a position with a signal, it's important that you stay in the same location. For most situations when you call 999/112, police or mountain rescue will normally need to call you back, so staying in the 'good signal' location means that anyone calling is more likely to get through. Also read below regarding Emergency Calls Only.

Similarly, when using a phone in poor conditions, try to establish a good spot by using the signal-strength meter on the phone and then stay exactly in that spot if necessary.  Even a few inches can make the difference of contact.

999 or 112

Confused about which one is better than the other? Read this explanation.

Emergency Calls Only
If your phone is showing 'Emergency Calls Only', this means that it is camped-on to another mobile network. Being camped-on to another network is great in one respect, as you will be able to make a 999 call. However, if your phone remains camped-on to another network, you will not be able to receive incoming calls until back on your home network.

Be aware of this limitation when making the initial call, and advise the operator of such, as the police and/or Mountain Rescue Team will need to call you back. If someone else in the group has a phone that is not showing 'Emergency Calls Only', use their phone for the 999 call, as it will allow incoming calls. Police may also ask that you call back on another number after a set period of time (another use for pad & pencil). 

If you have contact police and not received a call back within 10 to 15 minutes, phone 999 again.

Phones showing Emergency Calls Only will not be able to send an Emergency Text/SMS.

Sending an Emergency Text

From a technical perspective a text message transmission is more efficient than voice, so even when a voice call is impossible, you may be able to squeeze through a text message. Click here for Emergency SMS section

Saving Mobile Battery

The primary function of your phone when in the hills, should be for communication in an emergency. In remote areas battery drain can be rapid, and quicker than urban locations, for a variety of reasons (see below), and the following steps will ensure that you have sufficient battery if you do need to make a call.

  • either switch off your mobile, or set it to ‘flight’ or ‘aircraft’ mode. Flight mode switches off the phone’s search for a mobile network, and thus prevents battery drain

  • make sure all unnecessary smart phone apps are closed down

  • switch off data, Bluetooth and GPS connections unless required. Some phones allow activation even when in flight mode

  • store your phone in your rucksack and in a waterproof bag or container, but be sure in the prevailing conditions that the ring-tone can be heard (if called for emergency services)

  • if you have to keep your phone on, switch the network mode to 2g/GSM only, and disable 3g/WCDMA/4g/LTE modes and mobile data connections. These steps will stop your phone searching for a 3g network and stop any running applications trying to download data or update themselves; also saving battery

Other Tips

  • Mobile phones sometimes get confused or lock up and, even within good network coverage, will indicate ‘no service’. Switching off the mobile and (better, where this is possible) removing the battery for several seconds, then switching back on will clear the lock-up and restore connectivity. 

  • Go round the other members in the party to see who has and hasn’t coverage. Use the best phone with a good battery to make initial and follow-up calls to emergency services, and ideally one that does not show 'emergency calls only' (as phones displaying such wording will not allow incoming calls)

Some Other Useful Facts


  • do not use satellites as a means of signal relay (had to include this, as it’s only recently that someone who should know better was of the belief that mobiles did use satellites). They work by picking-up a signal from a ground based mast/transmitter. There are fewer of these masts in rural locations.

  • there are four UK based physical mobile networks (O2, Vodafone, 3 and Everything Everywhere – which is the combination of the old Orange and T-Mobile)

  • virtual networks, such as Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Giffgaff etc, use one of the four physical networks. They buy airtime wholesale, and you buy retail from them

  • to make a normal voice call, or send a text, your phone has to have a signal on its ‘home’ network

  • try hard to keep a signal even when it’s really weak. In doing this, the drain on battery is increased as it needs to use more power to keep hold of the signal and reach the base station as mountainous areas usually have weak signals

  • when a signal is low, it is possible that your phone roams onto one of the other three UK networks, meaning that you cannot make a call or send a text. Some phone brands have more of a tendency to do this, but you can do a manual network search to manually select your home network – this requires knowledge and practice. In the Lake District or Snowdonia, it's possible to pick up a signal from the Isle of Man. However, it's unlikely that a call is possible on such a network, as the maximum distance from phone to transmitter (for 2g network) to make a call is 35km