Wi-Fi Calling: A Primer

Do you have problems making or receiving cellular calls at your home or office?  Do you have to stand at the end of your driveway and face east to initiate a call?  Would you like to improve the sound quality of your calls?  Setting up Wi-Fi Calling may be a solution for you.

Wi-Fi Calling Enabled on an iPhone

Wi-Fi Calling, a service generally provided at no cost by the major U.S. cellular providers, allows you to place and receive cellular calls using a Wi-Fi network instead of the providers cellular network.  Basic domestic calling is provided for free by all of the major carriers. Check with your provider for details and prices of more advanced features, like international calling.

Wi-Fi Calling is a natural extension (and improvement) from Microcell technology that many carriers offer to improve cellular connectivity at a specific location. Frankly, I’m a bit perplexed about why devices such as this are still even being offered.

Alternatives

One might suggest that using the internet to communicate is not new.  VoIP technology has been in use for many years.  Services like Skype, Facebook Messenger and others have been available for many years.  The thing that makes Wi-Fi calling special is that it is seamless.  In other words, you don’t have to teach Grandma how to work with Skype.  She just has to be able to dial your phone number.

Pros

  • Improves cellular coverage
    • Creates or extends coverage where no coverage was previously available
    • Mitigates weak carrier signal in dead spots
  • Often improves call sound quality
  • Gain ability to place or receive calls on other connected devices
    • As a Verizon customer using iOS devices, I am able to configure my iPad and Mac associated with my iCloud account to allow me to place and receive calls directly from them.
  • Can save you money
    • Cellular carriers usually don’t include Wi-Fi Calling minutes towards the plan allotment. If most of your calls are made at home, perhaps a cheaper plan with fewer minutes included could be used.
    • Configuring other connected devices to use Wi-Fi Calling could be thought of as sharing a phone line or adding extensions to your existing phone system.
  • Can improve battery life
    • Cellular calls made over weak signals may drain device battery quickly

Cons

  • If you leave the range of your Wi-Fi connection while on a call, it will most likely be dropped.
  • Only a single location can be configured for emergency services

Requirements

All major carriers offer Wi-Fi Calling.  Most popular devices (iOS, Android and others) are already supported.  Check with your provider to confirm that you have a supported device and how to configure it.

For best call quality, you must have a decent internet connection and a strong Wi-Fi signal.  Generally, the ability to support 1 MB per minute of data will be required.  Fortunately, most modern Wi-Fi networks can easily accommodate this speed.  Overloaded Wi-Fi networks or networks with high latency may limit the effectiveness of Wi-Fi Calling.

911 and Location

Modern cellular phones use GPS technology to identify your location in the event of an emergency. Although some networks may provide some level of detail about the location, it is not sufficient for 911 service.  The FCC requires that you register a specific location for your Wi-Fi Calling device. This location is where emergency services will be deployed if you dial 911 from the device. It is the user’s responsibility to keep this location up to date.  Currently, only a single location can be registered.  Personally, I would like to see improvements to the how this is handled by the carriers in the future.

Security

Very early implementations of Wi-Fi Calling used insecure networks and unencrypted network connections.  Today, these connections over Wi-Fi would use standard encryption mechanisms ensuring the integrity of your communications back to your cellular provider.

Cellular Provider Details

Details about configuring, using and billing for Wi-Fi Calling features from each of the major cellular carriers can be found below.

Configuring Wi-Fi Calling is pretty easy and can significantly improve your cellular phone experience. Give it a try!

This entry was posted in 2 Geek, Android, Apple, AT&T, FCC, GPS, iCloud, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Microcell, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, VOIP, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Calling and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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