On Their Phone When Calling Them: How to Know?

Here’s how to tell if someone is on their phone when you call them:

You might get an indicator, like a busy signal or a chime that lets you know the number you dialed is in use.

On the other end, you can get a call waiting beep or similar indicator. 

You also might not get any notification, which would require you to deduce the call status by thinking about how calls work.

So if you want to know all about how to know if someone is on their phone when calling them, then you’re in the right place.

Keep reading!

On Their Phone When Calling Them: How to Know? (Do This)

How Do You Tell If Someone Is on Their Phone When You Call Them? (4 Types)

There are a number of features and indicators that let you know that someone is already on the phone when you call them.

Likewise, there are features and indicators that let someone who is on the phone know that a call is incoming. 

Despite that, a lot of these are a bit antiquated, so you might run into this situation and have no idea whether or not they’re already on the phone.

#1 On iPhones

Apple’s line of phones does not currently and never has provided an indicator for this purpose.

If you call an iPhone, it won’t tell you that a call is already in progress. 

You will get a ringing sound, or you might go straight to voicemail.

In either case, there is no definitive way to know if the person you are calling is already on their phone.

#2 On Nokias

Nokias and a lot of older phones had indicators that let you know someone is already on a call when you dial them.

There was (and is) a signature beep that goes with the ring to give you that information. 

Since these phones also come with call waiting, it might be normal to hear that beep and then get an answer anyway.

#3 On Landlines

This is the signature case. Anyone who remembers what it was like to use landlines is likely familiar with the busy signal.

This is a specific tone that is sent from the dialed phone to the dialer. 

The repeating sound lets you know that you cannot connect to the line because it is currently in use.

In this case, staying on the line won’t help. So, you can hang up and try again later or try an alternative form of communication.

On modern smartphones, busy signals aren’t really a thing.

But, some people still use landlines, and those landlines can return a busy signal.

#4 On Androids

Android phones do not have an indicator in this fashion. 

Like with iPhones, when you call an Android, the sounds you hear do not depend on whether or not the phone is already on a call.

What Happens When You Call Someone Who Is on Their Phone? (6 Things)

Since you don’t always get a clear indicator of call status, you can discern whether or not someone is on the phone by knowing more about the process. 

These are all of the things that can happen when you call someone who happens to be on a call already.

#1 Can Give a Busy Signal

We’ve already gone over busy signals.

They only really apply to the plain old telephone system, although smartphone designers could build a busy signal into their phones if they wanted.

From the perspective of receiving a call, if your line gives out a busy signal, you will never know.

This happens because the other person can’t connect to your line. 

That means there is no way for your phone to give you an indication that something happened.

Your busy phone is just as clueless as you are because this happens at the switchboard level.

#2 Can Get a Call Waiting Beep

Call waiting has largely made busy signals obsolete.

This feature allows you to get a notification that someone is calling you while you’re on the phone. 

The beep is usually a single, short tone.

It is subtle enough that you might not notice it, but the beep will repeat periodically as long as the caller is connected. 

In other words, if they are hearing your phone ring, you are hearing the call waiting beep, provided call waiting is enabled.

#3 Can Engage Call Waiting

If you hear the call waiting beep, you can engage call waiting.

The way to do it will depend on your phone. 

With smartphones, there is usually a green answer button that you can tap.

When call waiting engages, it will put the current conversation on hold and connect you with the new caller.

#4 Hang Up One Call And Answer the Other

Even with call waiting, sometimes it makes more sense to end one call before joining the other.

That’s a viable option.

When you hang up the other call, you will still have the option to engage the call that is waiting. 

On smartphones, it will still be a simple matter of tapping the green answer button.

#5 Use a Hold Feature

In the absence of call waiting, you can also use a hold feature.

Typically, this requires the presence of more than one available phone line.

It’s still a common practice for many businesses. 

So when a new call comes in while a different call is already active, the hold feature can be used for either line.

#6 Start a Conference Call

Sometimes, the best solution is to merge the calls together.

Modern digital phones can do this fairly easily. 

Simply choose the merge or conference call feature when the new caller contacts you.

This can create a three-way or party call, and all three people will be able to talk to and hear each other simultaneously.

How to Tell if Someone Is Using Other Features While You Are Talking to Them? (2 Things)

So far, we’ve talked about connecting phone lines, but there is another line this question can take.

What if you are on the phone with someone, and they are using their phone for other purposes? Maybe they’re multitasking.

If that’s happening, how can you tell?

There’s no direct indicator. Your phone won’t scan their phone and tell you what apps are running.

But, there are some ways you can get an idea as to whether or not they are doing more than talking with their phone.

#1 Test Their Response

The simplest thing is to ask them an easy question and see how they respond.

If they seem distracted, they probably are distracted. 

You won’t know with certainty that they are using their phone, but in the modern era, that’s a likely explanation for their distraction.

#2 Listen for Sounds

If someone is talking to you while using other apps on their phone, the phone might make noises. 

App noises can be silenced, especially when on a call, but if they use the speakerphone feature and don’t silence app noises, you’re very likely to hear them.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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