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Wi-Fi calling

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn, Alexander Gillis

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. Typically, the term refers to cellular calls, as opposed to texting. The service is available on most Android and iOS devices, and the user experience is similar to any other phone call.

Wi-Fi calling will, by default, connect a user to a Wi-Fi network instead of using the individual's mobile data. Users may be more familiar with the similar process of using Wi-Fi to send messages via SMS.

Wi-Fi calling may also refer to the use of computers and mobile devices for audio communication across Wi-Fi to telephone numbers through a specialized app and web service. People use this type of Wi-Fi calling to avoid paying for phone service. Some apps allow the use of a real number for inbound calls for free. Providers enabled the smartphone feature to avoid losing customers to these apps.

The Wi-Fi calling service can be used domestically and internationally from most countries.

How does Wi-Fi calling work?

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. From the internet, data is passed to the cellular network and then back to the answering party. Wi-Fi calling must be supported by the smartphone to work. The service is a newer version of the Generic Access Network (GAN) protocol.

From the user end, individuals should first ensure both their carrier and smartphone support Wi-Fi calling. The requirements may differ by carrier. For example, Verizon also requires the user has the HD Voice setting enabled. When enabled, the Wi-Fi calling feature is used automatically when the device is connected to Wi-Fi. Calls and messages will appear in normal call and chat logs, and an icon may appear in the phone's notification bar -- normally saying VoLTE, meaning voice over LTE, or with an icon of a phone receiver with a Wi-Fi symbol. If a user wants to ensure that their call will use Wi-Fi calling, then they can also turn their phone on Airplane Mode. Depending on the carrier, network or device, a call may drop if it leaves a Wi-Fi router's range.

Advantages of Wi-Fi calling

Wi-Fi calling has a number of advantages:

  • Helps users connect to a phone call or messaging when cellular service is weak.
  • Phone calls can be made using the individual's phone number -- no additional number is needed.
  • Easy to set up.
  • Once enabled, it works automatically.
  • Can save minutes on cellular subscriptions or avoid the requirement for the contract altogether, given the availability of nearby active Wi-Fi network
  • Benefiting from the higher bandwidth of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi calling can also handle texts.
  • The service is free in most instances.

How much does Wi-Fi calling cost?

Pricing of Wi-Fi calling will vary depending on the carrier. For example, Wi-Fi calling with Verizon is available mostly free and is included in a user's existing voice plan. Wi-Fi calls to other numbers in the U.S. are free, with the exception of 411 and other service-center premium calls. International calls are billed as long-distance and will be billed to an international rate plan. Calls within the US are free with AT&T, except for premium numbers being charged -- the same as Verizon. AT&T calls to international numbers are also billed to long-distance rates. 

It is important to note that Wi-Fi access points which require an access fee will incur an additional charge.

Which devices support Wi-Fi calling?

Different carriers will have different policies for Wi-Fi calling, and may support Wi-Fi calling on certain devices and not others. Even if an individual has a smartphone capable of Wi-Fi calling, it may not be able to be turned on if the carrier network doesn't support the device. However, many of the major carriers (such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile/Sprint) support Wi-Fi calling. Most T-Mobile and Verizon devices will support Wi-Fi calling.

Both Android and iOS devices feature Wi-Fi calling. iPhones began supporting Wi-Fi calling after the iPhone 5C, and the majority of Android devices will support Wi-Fi calling.

How to enable Wi-Fi calling

Enabling and disabling Wi-Fi calling will differ depending on the device.

To enable Android devices:

  • Pull down the notification shade and select the device settings
  • Search for Wi-Fi calling in the search bar.
  • The setting may also appear under the advanced section of Wi-Fi Settings.
  • Tap the Wi-Fi Calling option and slide the toggle to turn it on.

For Apple devices:

  • Select the Settings app > Phone > Wi-Fi calling
  • Select the slider to turn Wi-Fi calling on.

Both iOS and Android devices will require a user to input their address in the event of an emergency for emergency calls.

If Verizon is the carrier, then the user must also ensure the HD Voice setting -- or Advanced Calling on some devices -- is also set to on.

How to turn off Wi-Fi calling

Enabling and disabling Wi-Fi calling will differ depending on the device -- however, most Android and iOS devices share the same steps. 

To turn the Wi-Fi calling setting to off on Android:

  • Select Setting > Advanced Calling > Wi-Fi Calling
  • Set the On/Off setting to Off.

On iOS devices:

  • Go to Settings > Cellular > Wi-Fi Calling
  • Switch "Wi-Fi Calling on This iPhone" to off.
This was last updated in March 2020

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