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Years ago, virtual communication tools like Skype were considered a threat to telecommunication carriers—especially as the availability of public Wi-Fi hotspots grew. To combat this, carriers began introducing Wi-Fi calling. T-Mobile and Sprint offered this feature on certain phones back in 2007 and over the years, Verizon, AT&T and other popular carriers have added Wi-Fi calling as part of their service options.
So, what exactly is Wi-Fi calling, and what does enabling that setting mean for the sound quality of your calls and your phone bill? Learn whether Wi-Fi calling makes sense for you and your business practices in this complete guide.
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What Is Wi-Fi Calling?
From a user experience perspective, Wi-Fi calling behaves just like a regular phone call—you dial a phone number as you normally would. You can use all of the same features you’re used to, like three-way calling and speakerphone, as you would with any other phone call.
The difference between Wi-Fi calling and regular phone calls happens behind the scenes. With Wi-Fi calling, the call is routed to a Wi-Fi network instead of your phone service provider’s network. We’ve all experienced at least one time where our phone provider’s coverage was spotty. In these scenarios, Wi-Fi calling can be a great alternative for when your smartphone is connected to a wireless network.
VoIP and Wi-Fi Calling: What’s the Difference?
In the past few years, the “Wi-Fi calling” setting has been made more prominent on mobile devices. In fact, if you’ve ever made a call while your device was connected to a network, you’ve probably already used Wi-Fi calling. Although Wi-Fi calling may seem like a fancy new feature, the technology that powers it has been around for years and is known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
VoIP sounds incredibly technical, but you’ve probably used this technology on multiple occasions, both as a consumer and in the workplace. Popular platforms and mobile applications that run on VoIP include Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger and Google Meet. For businesses, a few major VoIP platforms include RingCentral, Vonage, Avaya and Ooma.
The accessibility, cost-effectiveness and reliability of VoIP spurred telecommunication carriers into action: Carriers used VoIP technology to develop this new competitive feature called “Wi-Fi calling” that would work automatically on a user’s smartphone when they were using a wireless network.
This distinction is important because when people refer to VoIP, they are typically referring to a standalone application or platform that requires installation—such as the consumer and business applications mentioned above. When people mention Wi-Fi calling, they are referring to the carrier-branded calling that is automatically available on your phone. You do not need to install an application to use Wi-Fi calling. Instead, you enable a setting on your phone that turns on this feature.
How Wi-Fi Calling Works
When Wi-Fi calling is enabled, your phone will automatically identify the strongest network available after you dial. Then, it will route the call through a cellular or Wi-Fi network—whichever happens to be the strongest at the time of the call. Enabling Wi-Fi calling doesn’t mean that you commit to routing calls solely through Wi-Fi. Instead, your call will route through a Wi-Fi network only if it is stronger than your carrier’s cellular network.
In most instances, your cellphone carrier will treat Wi-Fi calls as if they were regular calls. That means there typically aren’t any additional fees to use this feature, and your Wi-Fi call minutes will be deducted from your phone plan’s monthly allotment.
How to Enable Wi-Fi Calling
The exact steps will vary depending on whether you have an Apple or Android device. Either way, you can enable Wi-Fi calling by going to your phone’s Settings menu. From there, look for options such as Connections, Cellular, or Network & Internet—the specific terminology will depend on the system version your device is running on. Regardless, there should be a clear option to turn Wi-Fi Calling on and off.
Pros and Cons of Wi-Fi Calling
Still unsure if it’s even worth enabling the Wi-Fi calling feature? Here are the top pros and cons to consider.
Backup Solution for Spotty Cellular Coverage
Wi-Fi calling doesn’t lock you into making phone calls solely through a Wi-Fi connection. Instead, it essentially acts as a backup solution for your phone calls. It’s always nice to have a backup plan in place in case you temporarily lose cellular service coverage.
No Need to Install Additional Apps
Unlike VoIP applications, you do not need to install any apps or software to use Wi-Fi calling. This feature comes “baked” into your phone, so you won’t use up precious phone storage and memory with yet another app.
Can Provide a More Reliable Connection From Home
If you’re making a call from home, you’re probably within 50 feet or less from your Wi-Fi router—that’s based off the average home size of 2,400 square feet in the U.S. That is considerably less distance than there is between your phone and the nearest cellular phone tower, which is likely miles away. In rural areas, you may be even up to 50 miles from the nearest cellular tower.
Unreliable Signal Strength In Public Settings
While Wi-Fi calling can be a great option for calls from home, it’s considerably less reliable in public settings. If you’re in a cafe or a hotel, think of all the bandwidth that is shared between multiple users all actively using the same network. Your call quality may suffer when your phone has to compete for that bandwidth space.
Wi-Fi Hotspots Are Not Always Available
Although the number of global publicly available hotspots has increased by nearly 500% from 2016 to 2021, you’re still not guaranteed to be within close range of one anywhere you go.
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Carrier-Branded Wi-Fi Calling Is Still Relatively New
Although VoIP technology has been around for years, cellphone carriers have slowly started offering Wi-Fi calling to their customers. While most major carriers offer this feature, some mobile carriers and some devices (particularly older models) won’t support Wi-Fi calling.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is VoIP?
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is an internet-based technology that uses a broadband connection instead of a regular landline or cellular connection to send and receive text messages and phone calls. This means that as long as you have an internet connection, you can use your VoIP number just like any other phone number.
Does Wi-Fi Calling Use Data?
If the call is being routed through a Wi-Fi network, it does not use data from your cellphone plan.
How Much Does Wi-Fi Calling Cost?
In most cases, Wi-Fi calling does not incur any additional costs. Most cellphone providers will treat Wi-Fi calls the same as any other call and deduct those minutes from your cellphone plan’s allotment. However, note that some public Wi-Fi networks may charge you an access fee to connect to their network. Check with your wireless carrier for further details on cost.
Can I Use Wi-Fi Calling Overseas?
Yes. In most cases, making Wi-Fi calls to a U.S. phone number while you are overseas is free. However, you should always check your cellphone carrier’s international calling terms to be sure.
How Fast Does My Wi-Fi Connection Need to Be to Make a Wi-Fi Call?
Generally, a minimum of 2 Mbps for Wi-Fi calls is recommended.
Can Wi-Fi Calling Be Hacked?
Although you may connect to an unsecured network during a Wi-Fi call, your mobile carrier encrypts your voice regardless of whether a call is routed through their cellular network or a Wi-Fi network. So even if your Wi-Fi network is public or unsecured, your calls should be safe because of the automatic voice encryption by your carrier.
What are the disadvantages of Wi-Fi calling? ›
Weak signal strength can result in poor voice call quality and dropped calls. Some devices don't support WiFi calling. You must have a smartphone with built-in WiFi calling capabilities. Most Android phones and newer iPhones support WiFi calling.Should I have my Wi-Fi calling on or off? ›
Should You Keep WiFi Calling on All the Time? To make sure you get the best possible signal during mobile phone calls, keeping WiFi calling on is a good idea. If you are using a public WiFi network (at a cafe or hotel, for instance), the network's signal strength might not be as strong as at your home.What is Wi-Fi calling good for? ›
WiFi calling is beneficial for numerous reasons. Most notably, it allows you to communications from the most remote locations, as long as there's an internet connection available. That means you can make voice calls and send messages whether you're indoors, outdoors, or even underground.Is it safer to use Wi-Fi calling on your cell? ›
When making a call, your mobile carrier encrypts your voice. This happens when you're using a Wi-Fi connection, making such calls perfectly safe — even if the Wi-Fi network isn't secure or password-protected.Does Wi-Fi calling work for texts? ›
Wi-Fi Calling lets you talk and text over an active Wi-Fi connection. You can turn Wi-Fi Calling on or off in your phone's settings. With Wi-Fi Calling, you can call, text, and use AT&T Visual Voicemail as you do on the cellular network.Can someone listen to you through Wi-Fi? ›
Hackers can hack your router, spy on your Wi-Fi connection and even eavesdrop on your conversations to steal personal information such as credit card details, passwords to your social media accounts, and even compromise your online banking apps.How much data does Wi-Fi Calling use? ›
How much data will a Wi-Fi call use? Voice calling uses about 1-5 MB of data. A 1-minute video call typically uses from 6-30 MB of data depending on video resolution. The actual data usage of your voice or video call varies.Does Wi-Fi Calling cause dropped calls? ›
Spoiler alert: Most of these are going to be related to your Wi-Fi network since you're making these calls are, well, Wi-Fi calls. Dropped calls can be caused by Wi-Fi blackspots, an old router, slow internet speeds, and other factors.What is the difference between WIFI calling and cellular calling? ›
Wi-Fi calling is a voice service that lets users place and receive calls over a wireless internet connection, as opposed to using a cellular signal. Smartphone users can make use of Wi-Fi calling to talk and text on their smartphones from locations where it's difficult to reach a strong cellular phone signal.Do you pay for Wi-Fi calling? ›
In most cases, Wi-Fi calling does not incur any additional costs. Most mobile providers will treat Wi-Fi calls the same as any other call and deduct those minutes from your monthly talk-time. However, note that some public Wi-Fi networks may charge you an access fee to connect to their network.
Should you turn on Wi-Fi Calling? ›
It can improve call quality, but Wi-Fi calling can also extend your phone's battery life, as weak cell signals cause your phone to use more power to boost the connection. Updated January 2023: We updated the instructions for Wi-Fi calling on Android phones.How do I know if my phone is using Wi-Fi Calling? ›
When you're connected to the internet, you'll see "Internet Call" or "Wi-Fi calling" on the notification screen. When you're not connected to Wi-Fi, your calls will use your mobile carrier, if you have one.What do I need to have Wi-Fi Calling? ›
A smartphone with WiFi Calling capability (most modern smartphones do). Carrier that supports WiFi Calling (many do). Minimum WiFi speeds of 2 Mbps for voice calls and 10 Mbps for video calls. Recommended: 15 Mbps with a WiFi Router that is 801.11n (WiFi 4) or better.Can someone see what I'm doing on my WiFi? ›
Can Someone See My Internet History On Their WIFI? Yes. The WiFi owner has access to the admin panel from the WiFi router, meaning they can see the browsing information performed on their WiFi network. In addition, routers see log information, including when and what you did on your computer.Can someone see what you're watching on WiFi? ›
Can someone see what websites I visit on their Wi-Fi? Yes, depending on the router, the Wi-Fi owner could look up your browsing history through the router's admin panel. They could check the router logs to see connected devices, timestamps, sources, and IP addresses, but not necessarily specific URLs.Can you see what other devices are doing on your WiFi? ›
Well, the short answer to the question is yes. Almost every Wi-Fi router keeps logs of the websites the connected devices are visiting. Only the Wi-Fi owner has the permission to check out the logs of the Wi-Fi router to understand which connected user visited which websites.Can someone divert my calls without my knowledge? ›
Yes, it is possible for someone to divert your calls without your knowledge. Your smartphone is a treasure trove of sensitive information, from contacts and photos to banking apps and email accounts that's why it must be well secured.What happens if I keep my mobile data and Wi-Fi both on at a time? ›
What happens if I keep my mobile data and Wi-Fi both on at a time? On LTE phones it will dramatically increase connect speeds.As others have said, when both WiFi and 3G are simultaneously connected, only WiFi will work.What's the difference between Wi-Fi calling and Wi-Fi? ›
Wi-Fi calling will work similarly to other Wi-Fi enabled voice over IP (VoIP) applications -- such as Skype or WhatsApp -- albeit with slight differences. Wi-Fi calling works through transmitting the same cellular data packets as Wi-Fi VoIP through a Wi-Fi connection and across the internet.Does Wi-Fi calling use data? ›
No. Calls and texts made over Wi-Fi to numbers in the US don't use our cellular network and don't count against your mobile plan's data allowance. However, the Wi-Fi network you're connecting to may charge an access fee.
Is voice over WIFI the same as Wi-Fi Calling? ›
Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi), also known as Wi-Fi Calling, is a Wi-Fi-based commercial telephony voice call service provided by different network operators. Thanks to Wi-Fi Calling you can make and answer calls via a Wi-Fi network instead of using your mobile network.How do I know if I'm on Wi-Fi Calling? ›
- Open the Phone app .
- Tap More. Settings.
- Tap Calls.
- Tap Wi-Fi calling. If you don't see this option, it's because your carrier doesn't support this feature. You can use Wi-Fi calling without a service on some carriers.