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Ooma Blog

Is Google Changing How You Call 911 on an Android?

By Dmitry Maslov|Tuesday August 27, 2019

Voice commands on your Android could mean the difference between life and death. Consider emergency scenarios when you’re unable to dial 911. You could be unable to reach your cell phone after a fall, have lost mobility because of a stroke, or administering CPR.

For Android users, Google is the engine processing voice commands on your device. However, like dialing 911 with Siri, Google has its own particulars about making 911 calls.

An emergency phone call may be one of the most important calls you make, and it’s no time to face technological glitches. Learn the six essential facts about using Google on your Android to dial 911.

call 911 android voice command

1. How to Call 911 Using Android’s Voice Command

You’re probably already used to Android commands such as “Ok Google, call Mom.” The same functionality applies to emergency phone calls.

To get help in an emergency, say, “Ok Google, call 911.”

With this command, Google will use your phone’s native calling app to connect you with an emergency dispatcher.

2. Using the Wrong Google Command Causes Problems

Users have reported a glitch when using a Google voice command to get help in an emergency. The problem is that the command, “Hey Google, call an ambulance,” doesn’t have the same effect as, “Hey Google, call 911.”

For example, one woman made a panicked 4am phone call needing an ambulance because her boyfriend was unresponsive. Because she initiated the call by saying, “Hey Google, call an ambulance,” the device displayed a list of local ambulance companies, and she connected to one without thinking. Unfortunately, private ambulance companies aren’t first responders and had to instruct her to hang up and dial 911. Making multiple calls cost valuable time while leaving the caller confused about what went wrong.

This wasn’t an isolated incident, and ambulance companies report receiving multiple emergency calls each week.

According to a Google representative, “The supported query for the Google Assistant is, ‘Hey Google, call 911.’ This will trigger the Assistant to call 911. Asking the Assistant to ‘call an ambulance’ isn’t currently supported, and we don’t encourage use of that voice command.”

3. How Does Emergency Access Differ Between Android and iPhone?

Android and iPhone devices both allow you to make hands-free emergency calls. However, the command options differ between the two devices.

On an iPhone, users can reach emergency services by saying, “Hey Siri, call 911” or, “Hey Siri, call an ambulance.” On the other hand, using Google on your Android only supports the command, “Hey Google, call 911.”

emergency 911 call using google

4. Google’s Voice Processing is Changing on Android Phones

Android users could start to see even more changes in how Google’s voice commands function. Search Engine Journal recently reported that Google is replacing traditional voice search on Android phones with Google Assistant.

From the user perspective, Android users will see very little change, still interacting with their device via “Hey Google” voice commands. However, on the back end, by moving all Android voice command to be routed through Google Assistant, the AI has the potential to grow even smarter at knowing what its users want.

The rollout is happening gradually, as Google consolidates its legacy voice function into Google Assistant.
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5. Ooma’s Advanced 911 Provides Even More Emergency Support

Ooma Telo’s advanced 911 service works across multiple connected devices. It’s available when using an Ooma-connected home phone, when using Ooma’s free calling app on your mobile device, or when paired with a smart home device.

Ooma’s first advantage is that it adds landline-level accuracy to your emergency calls. Geolocation problems of some mobile 911 calls can have some responders scrambling to find the emergency site. In contrast, Ooma automatically transmits your self-provisioned physical address to dispatchers (where available), saving valuable time when you need it the most.

Additionally, Ooma’s Remote 911 helps you respond to an emergency at home, even when you’re not there. For example, if you’re at the office when there’s a problem at home, placing a 911 call via the Ooma app will be processed as if your call was coming from your home phone.

Ooma’s advanced 911 service also includes 911 Alerts to automatically notify an emergency number if a 911 call is placed from an Ooma-connected line. An emergency isn’t the time to be out of the loop, and Ooma’s 911 Alerts can keep you informed when it matters the most.

Ooma’s 911 Alerts can be sent either as a text message or as an email, and they can even be set up to include a customized message. For example, you can include medication information, the phone number of the family doctor, and any other resources that can help you act quickly during an emergency. See Dialing 911 for Emergency Services to learn more about Ooma’s 911 service.

Learn more about how Ooma Telo home phone service can help you stay connected to what matters most.

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Is Google Voice heading to the Google Graveyard? The calling app has been around since 2009, and yet it seems as though it’s always been on the verge of being discontinued. The uncertainty has many people looking for a Google Voice alternative. 

It’s important that your calling and texting platforms are reliable, full-featured and can support the way you want to communicate. Let’s review the predictions about Google Voice’s future and what you should look for when choosing a Google Voice alternative. 

Google Voice’s Uncertain Future

Headlines about Google Voice comment that it’s “not dead yet.” That might be as optimistic as we can get about the calling app. It spent years being neglected by Google, and it’s not clear if Google is fully committed to it as a priority app.

The Verge said in 2019, “Voice’s interface is a bit old-fashioned (despite a relatively recent update).” It added, “and (this being Google) there is always the chance that the company will suddenly decide to get rid of it.”

The path of Google Voice has never been clear. For a while, there was talk that Google Voice would move to Google Hangouts. However, Hangouts is currently in its sunset, and Google is expected to retire the app in June 2020 or later. Users will be moved to Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet.

Ars Technica reported earlier this year that Google may be working on another iteration for communication tools. “Google is working on yet another messaging app,” said the article. The new app would merge the functions of apps like Hangouts Chat, Hangouts Meet and Google Voice. 

“If this service launches, it would be Google’s tenth messaging app,” said Ars. “Google’s inability to stick with a single messaging platform and its penchant for shutting down services has left its users very suspicious of any new messaging app from the company.

The uncertainty of Google Voice may have you looking for different solutions. Luckily, there are plenty of great VoIP options available that offer strong sets of features and reliable service at little to no cost. 

Here are the top seven things to consider when choosing an alternative to Google Voice. 

1. Does your Google Voice replacement have 911 Service?

It’s easy to assume that 911 will always be there when we need it. However, an emergency 911 call made with Google Voice will fail. 

This lack of emergency access has been a major drawback of the service. When looking for a Google alternative, prioritize a digital phone service that supports 911 calls

Keep in mind that there is usually a required government fee for consumer access to 911 service. This varies based on location, but it’s commonly a few dollars per month. While avoiding all fees is preferable, paying a few dollars a month is worth it because it could quite literally be the difference between life and death. 

When seconds matter, you should be able to easily get help. You may also find that some providers go beyond traditional emergency access. For example, advanced 911 service from Ooma can automatically notify your chosen emergency contact if a 911 call is placed from an Ooma-connected phone. You can also connect Ooma to your smart home so that Alexa or Google Home can call 911 via a voice command if you’re unable to dial.

2. Does the Google Voice alternative offer free U.S. calling?

Google Voice isn’t the only app that offers free unlimited calling and texting with U.S. phone numbers. 

When choosing your service, look for an app that isn’t limited to calling other users. A better choice is a VoIP service that gives you free access to other phone numbers. Functionality should include free talking and text messaging with any landline or mobile phone, rather than only the ability to connect with other users. 

Also, look for device flexibility that lets you use the service on any mobile device via an app. Providers typically support mobile apps on both iOS and Android. Make sure you look closely at the details to see what type of calls you can make on the app. For example, the Verizon Digital Voice app is only for account management, not for calling and texting. 

Google Voice worked with Obihai to allow you to use a phone handset similar to a landline. Some VoIP services also offer the same type of access via a home phone or desk phone. With the right provider, you can access your phone line via a mobile device or a home handset. 

Also, prioritize a contract-free phone plan that gives you the service you want without any commitment. If you’re managing multiple phone lines, look for providers that let you forward your calls so you can update your settings as needed. 

3. Is customer support available with your new service?

Another key downside of Google Voice is its lack of direct customer support. For individual users, your best option to get help with Google Voice is to post to the community forum.

At best, this means that troubleshooting is inefficient. At worst, you could be left with unresolved problems that you can’t resolve. 

Some providers have limited customer support. For example, magicJack’s basic phone service limits support to chat and email support. It’s funny that users could be getting phone service from a company that you can’t call for help. 

Your Google Voice alternative can fix this. Your phone service should offer full customer service access across a range of service times that include nights and weekends. 

4. What’s the reliability and voice quality of your new service? 

An advantage of Google Voice is that you’re using a service from a well-known company. You may not be aware of the reputation of alternative VoIP providers. Even if you’ve heard of companies like Skype or Vonage, you may not fully know their service quality. 

A good approach is to look for a VoIP provider that has consistently been ranked highly. Reviews and rankings from publications like PC Magazine can help. Not only does it provide overall rankings, but you can review scores on individual factors such as reliability, call quality and ease of use.

5. What are your phone number options with your new VoIP provider?

Today’s VoIP providers offer options for getting a new local phone number or porting your existing phone number to the provider to continue using your current number. For businesses, there’s even the option to get a toll-free number. 

With the right provider, all of these phone number options can be free. 

Some companies will use these phone number preferences as a way to add on fees. Even though we may be willing to pay to get the phone number we want, it’s not necessary. Google Voice isn’t the only provider that offers free phone service and a free local number. 

Some VoIP providers will link your new service to your existing phone number. This can be a short-term solution if you want to add-on a second line to your current devices. However, you can run into problems if you change devices. It’s also problematic if you’re looking to cut the cord and use your VoIP service as your primary phone number. 

To avoid these problems, look for a standalone service that is portable and can be used any way you want. 

6. How does the VoIP provider handle international calls?

For U.S.-based VoIP providers, it’s common to have free unlimited U.S. calling paired with low-cost international calling. However, if international access is a priority to you, it’s important to double-check the rates and access parameters. 

Some providers may not offer any international calling, which is the most limiting option. Other providers have plans that require a long-term contract or options like Grasshopper require an up-front deposit before you can make international calls. 

VoIP providers typically have low-cost international calling with rates that are lower than traditional phone providers. However, there can still be a wide variety among providers. A rate comparison can help you clearly see which is the better deal. Why should you pay eight cents per minute to call Italy when you can pay two cents per minute? 

7. Are small business VoIP options also available?

You may be only focused on residential phone service now. However, it can be helpful to know if the provider also offers small business options. 

There are two reasons why this is helpful to know.

First, if a provider also offers business phone service, it shows their level of commitment to communication technology. A lightweight provider may only offer small residential service. As a result, they may not be investing in the R&D needed to provide high-quality business phone systems. This means you could have lower-quality service.

Second, today’s startup culture means that you may be interested in a small business phone in the future. If you’re already using a great provider, it’s easy to add on a small business line. This can make it easy to launch a part-time catering service, shadetree mechanic company or digital services brand. 

Small business VoIP can offer smart technology at a very low cost. A virtual receptionist (sometimes called an auto-attendant) can provide callers with pre-recorded messages with information like business hours or today’s menu. You’ll have the ability to make conference calls, get an 800-number, record calls and more. 


Learn more about Ooma’s free home phone service to discover if it can help you replace Google Voice.