iPhone SE needs to restart to make a call

My iPhone SE has developed a disturbing feature. It usually needs to be restarted to make a phone call successfully. I don’t make many calls (less than one per day generally); as a test, I tried to call a number about a day after a restart and it went through (I assume; I knew no one was there and I hung up as soon as I heard it ring). But most of the time it has been over a day since my last call and I need to shut down and restart before I can actually complete a call.

Failure is indicated by the phone turning off speaker without user intervention, no audible ringing tone, and eventually a failure message from the phone. Attempted calls do appear in the Recents menu.

I did Reset Network Settings to no effect. I have not Reset All Settings. The iOS is version 12.1.4; 12.3.1 is available. (Just out of curiosity, how would I install something greater than 12.1.4 but less than 12.3.1 if I wanted to do that?)

I believe the problem started on a recent trip, during which the phone went without service for about a week, and also during which it indicated that it had only 3G service in both Seattle and New York City. My provider is Virgin Mobile USA.

Suggestions? Comments? Thanks for any help.

I don’t think there’s a way to do that on the phone. It’s either jump straight to latest iOS version (if the option’s available) or stay put.

From the description of what’s happening when you’re trying to make a call, I’d suspect a hardware issue. Have you tried a cold start (turn the phone off, leave it a while, then power it on again)? If that doesn’t resolve it, and it’s still happening after updating iOS to 12.3.1, then I think it’s time to contact Apple.

(I’ve got an iPhone SE here on iOS 12.3.1.)

Thanks for the reply, Alan.

Your definition of “a while” determines whether I do that. Typically it’s about 20 to 30 seconds, and that’s what I’m now required to do most of the time that I want to make a call.

Do you see a benefit in leaving the phone off for longer before restarting it? How much longer?

I don’t think leaving the phone off for longer is going to make much difference. Your best bet now would be to contact Apple and see if they can help you get it working again.

Settings -> General -> Reset -> Reset All Settings

This is present on one device running 12.1.4 here; it’s very curious that you don’t see that setting.

You should also see ‘Erase All Contents and Settings’.

I would attach with USB to Lightning cable to iTunes, do a complete backup (or to iCloud if you have no choice), and then do a factory reset ('Erase all… ’ on device, or ‘Restore’ in iTunes), and see how the phone behaves with factory-fresh settings.

If you restore on-device, you can maintain 12.1.4; if you do it via iTunes, and you saved your 12.1.4 .ipsw file, you will have to be careful not to be forced to 12.3.1 (though I’m not clear what your reticence to update is; it’s a fine, stable update on the SEs in our household.)

Once you have tested hardware stability with fresh software, if successful, you can restore from your backup and be back to business as usual; if not, time for a trip to the Apple Store.

First news first. The phone seems to have started working normally. As I said, I make few phone calls, and I would guess that the phone needed to be restarted recently on about six occasions in order to make a call. Since the last restart, I have made a half dozen calls over the last several days (most of them just to see if they would go through). I don’t know what would have been different about the last restart that would have made the phone start working again.

Thanks for your comments, frederico.

I must have phrased something incorrectly. I do see the Reset All Settings command; I did not execute it.

I do back up in iTunes using a cable and not to iCloud. I have never performed a restore. What would it mean to restore on-device rather than via iTunes?

Where would I find the .ipsw file? I suspect that I’m not doing iOS updates in an optimal fashion.

I have no reticence about installing 12.3.1 (at least not now that you’ve endorsed it); it’s just something that I hadn’t gotten around to.

I am almost fully ignorant of most things related to iPhones and iPads. Somehow the Macintosh seems natural to me and iOS devices are confusing black boxes. It’s only recently that I figured out how to save backups older than the most recent one.

Of course, as soon as I posted that comment, I needed to restart the phone to make a call. I installed 12.3.1; the problem still appeared. The problem is intermittent, so successful calls do not necessarily mean the issue is gone.

I visited an Apple Store; the Genius wiped the phone clean (and seemed slightly amazed when I said I had a backup) and installed 12.3.1. I restored from the backup, and today the problem again manifested itself. However, based on a comment by the Genius, I switched to Airplane Mode for several seconds and switched back and that cured the problem, for that call.

My guess is that whatever causes the problem is in my backup, so my plan is to Reset All Settings and then restore from my oldest backup, which I believe predates the start of the issue. Does this seem reasonable? Any other suggestions?


My problem with the iPhone failing to make an outgoing call continues. Since the nearest Apple store is about 250 miles away, I’ll be living with it for a while. However, that suggestion to turn Airplane Mode on then off has worked reliably. Also, I have been leaving Airplane Mode on for shorter and shorter periods of time; I’m down to about one second. Apart from the annoyance of “it shouldn’t be necessary” (and remembering to do it), it is tolerable.

The iPhone SE gets quite warm fairly quickly when I’m on a call. Is this normal? I hadn’t noticed it before I started having the problem of failing to make outgoing calls, but I sure notice it now. Thanks for any information.

I’m pretty sure that’s not normal, and is very worrying as it points to the internal battery getting hot. I hate to say it, but I’d start looking for a replacement handset if I were you.

Just my 2¢, but I’ve always experienced iPhones getting warm really quick during calls. In fact even before the iPhone I remember that with my Treo and my Nokia. Always seemed to get a sweaty ear piece after a longer call. One of the reasons I have always preferred taking calls with headphones.

Thanks, Alan and Simon. For what it’s worth, “gets quite warm fairly quickly” meant 110 degrees F after about three minutes.

Related to the original topic, the January issue of Consumer Reports says, in a snippet, “And if you’re suddenly unable to make calls or you stop receiving calls or texts, someone may be illegally using your number.” Since I can regain the ability to make a call by turning Airplane Mode on and off, am I safe to assume this does not apply to me? Or might that just mean that the person illegally using my number must turn Airplane Mode on and off?

Sorry, I’ve been out of action for awhile. It sounds like your radios are failing, but it could still be in software.

Can you comfortably wipe the phone to factory settings and try it out as a “new” iPhone (sans restoring from backup) for long enough to see if the issue goes away? If it’s still there, you can always restore from backup again. Otherwise, you can confirm it is your SE hardware at fault ( assuming this happens at other physical locations with different cell towers).

For whatever reason, your radios are not maintaining a handshake with your provider’s cell towers. I think someone spoofing your SIM is s longshot, however, your connection logs available from your provider would reveal such an issue by indicating where and when your SIM is being used; you can survey the logs for dates and locations you know you’ve never been/used. Simultaneous or near-simultaneous connections in two broadly different locations would be such a flag.

Welcome back, and I hope that your out-of-action period was not due to poor health.

I was also out-of-action, due to traveling. While traveling, I did not experience the problem. Promptly upon return, I did experience the problem. Would someone spoofing my SIM while I am in my home area cause the problem but someone spoofing my SIM while I am away not cause the problem? In case it matters, during most of my travel time, I had 3G or poorer service.

In any event, how would I access my connection logs? In case it matters, my provider is Virgin Mobile USA.

Thanks for your continuing interest.

Sorry for the delay in response.

The good news is obviously that there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with your hardware so long as you’re away from home.

One thing I’m not sure has been clarified on this issue: when you’re connected at home, do you have strong signal strength in all parts of your house? Or does the signal become unreliable as you move from room to room? I’m just wondering if the phone or tower thinks it has a handshake when it’s actually been lost, and is failing to reestablish when the signal strength goes back up.

I’d be surprised if you can’t just log in to your VM website account and access your entire detailed call history, which, depending on the carrier, will note the general location (but not which cell towers). If you see any calls from home while you were away, yes, that would confirm something is seriously compromised.

If detailed records are not immediately available on your account, I can only suggest you call your carrier and describe the issue in detail, including that you have no problem when away from home.

I strongly suggest you carefully write out a summary of the conditions and how you’ve tested against it, so you can repeat the exact same details clearly when they inevitably ask you over and over and over to describe the problem, during which time they are also going to drive you mad with the classic gems of restarting your phone, resetting network settings, resetting all settings, restoring the phone, etc.

They might, however, be willing to reset your account at their end, which I’ve had to do on occasion myself with Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T; and apart from losing any stored voicemails (copy/export anything you want to save first), and having to reset my account PIN and voicemail greeting, it has solved any number of weird issues.

It’s not impossible that the caching at you local substation is involved, and such a reset will clear the node to more reliably connect to your device.

Another experiment you can try is to buy a cheap MMO pay-as-you-go SIM, and swap it out just to see if it is more reliable. It will be, of course, a new number, and any calls to your existing number wouldn’t ring through unless you first set it to forward to the test SIM; and outgoing calls would be from the new number and not recognized by your contacts; so keep that in mind. It’s a very effective way to challenge your carrier from the identical phone at the identical times and locations.

Let me know if this continues.



1 Like

Just a shot-in-the-dark here, but do you happen to have Wi-Fi calling enabled? The behavioral difference between home and away suggests something other than just normal cellular activity.

Another shot-in-the-dark question: Have you checked to verify that your SIM is properly installed, and is in good contact with the iPhone (no layer of grease or oil on the gold contacts)?

The signal strength indicator will vary from 1 to 3 bars as I wander around the house. I do not recall ever seeing zero bars, but I will watch more diligently.

I will try that. I have rarely visited the website, but I do have an account.

Ah, you’ve been through this before, haven’t you? Sometimes I wonder if all first level tech support numbers in the world go to the same desk.

MMO? Is there any reason I couldn’t swap a SIM from a functioning TracFone as an experiment? I have swapped SIMs in an iPhone and an iPad, but I do not understand the ramifications. (When I’ve swapped them, it has been because I was switching carriers—which is what I would be doing if I put the TracFone SIM in the iPhone. But I have not done it where I inserted a previously functioning SIM from another device.)

Is this where I can call from the iPad or the MacBook on the same Wi-Fi network and the call gets routed through the iPhone? If so, yes. I don’t remember making a call that way while traveling (when I did not have the problem). At home, I have the problem both calling through the iPad or MacBook and calling directly on the iPhone, and I have success (not needing to switch to Airplane mode and back) both calling from the iPad or the MacBook and calling directly on the iPhone. In other words, it’s intermittent.

No, but (as note above) I do succeed in making calls, so I expect it was installed correctly. I have now removed and rubbed the SIM with a clean cloth and re-installed it; if I have no problems for several days, I will try to remember to report back. As an aside, I turned the phone off before removing the SIM. Was that necessary? I once watched in horror as tech removed the SIM from an iPad while it was on, but the iPad seemed not to suffer, so I wonder if I’m being overly cautious.

Thank you both for your help.

Will, lots of variables in play here. Wi-Fi calling is a big one. Wi-Fi calling exists to help when the cellular signal at home isn’t good enough. When it is engaged, you will see “Wi-Fi” at the top of your screen. I strongly recommend that you turn that off (in Settings / Cellular) because that could be the source of your problems (and it is easy enough to take that out of the equation).

I do not recall ever having seen Wi-Fi at the top of my screen, and I cannot find anything called Wi-Fi calling in Settings -> Cellular. The closest I could find is Wi-Fi Assist, and it is and has been off. This is under iOS 12.4.1.

Will, I am surprised that you don’t see it under Cellular, but if you haven’t seen the “Wi-Fi” then it is not a factor in your issues. As a final check, you can (temporarily) turn off Wi-Fi from Settings, and see if outgoing calls work even when you don’t invoke airplane Mode first.

That makes me wonder: When you engage Airplane Mode, does Wi-Fi go off too? I ask because you can configure Airplane Mode to supporters Wi-Fi (and/or Bluetooth) or not — so “Airplane Mode” may or may not mean all radios off.