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What is Call Waiting?

By Phil Shepley
Updated May 16, 2024
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Call waiting is a feature that is now available on most home phone and cell phone networks. This handy feature allows a person to receive a call while he or she is already on the line with someone else. This is done by suspending the call that is in progress in order to receive the new call. Often, people have to pay for this service.

While engaged in a conversation, the telephone user is alerted to the incoming call by a call waiting alert, which usually sounds like a short tone or beep. The user then has the option of either ignoring the call or receiving it, usually by pressing the flash button on the phone. If a user takes the other call, the original party must wait for the user to come back, and in the meantime will be subject to dead air. At this point some networks, for an additional premium, allow the user to connect all three callers together in a feature known as three-way calling.

When the caller who is using call waiting does not answer the second call it will usually simply keep ringing until the new caller hangs up. However, the user may have a voicemail service so the new caller can leave a message to be retrieved later. Another feature that can be used simultaneously with call waiting is caller ID. This allows the user to be able to tell who the new caller is without having to change lines.

Without call waiting, a person calling the busy line will only get a busy signal unless the person they are calling has a separate phone line. A common reason for some people to have two separate phone lines is because they still use a dial-up connection to access the Internet. The beep that is associated with call waiting has been known to cause a dial-up connection to drop, and it is also possible to disable this service prior to getting online to prevent this problem.

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Discussion Comments
By Ruggercat68 — On Dec 14, 2014

I remember back in the days of dial-up Internet access, it was difficult to have a regular call waiting service. The incoming call could cause problems with the modem connection. I also didn't like the idea of important callers getting a busy signal while I was online.

I found an Internet call waiting service that would automatically transfer incoming landline calls to a special toll-free number. They would receive voice mail message instructions and I would get a small pop-up notice that displayed the caller's phone number and replay the voice mail message.

By Reminiscence — On Dec 13, 2014

I used to think call waiting service was a really great idea. I could still make and receive phone calls even if I was waiting for a very important message. But then I realized call waiting could also create a few awkward social situations. If I was on the phone with one person and another caller beeped in, I'd have to decide if the second caller was more "important" than the original caller. I didn't want to hurt the original caller's feelings if I decided to end our conversation so abruptly.

Now when I get a beep, I can used my Caller ID to decide if I want to accept that second call or not. I don't feel so bad about putting someone on hold and hoping he or she will still be there after I deal with the other caller.

By tdavis — On Dec 23, 2013

As a small business owner, I have found that having the telephone call waiting feature on my business and personal telephone lines is very helpful.

I can continue to take calls from clients or friends and family without having to worry about missing an important call because my phone line is busy.

My telephone provider also allows me to disable to call waiting if I need to such as during a conference call.

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