Most of us spend time in at least a few places where our phones just don’t work, whether it’s a room or two at home, a favorite basement coffee shop or some other signal-blocked location. That’s where WiFi calling can save the day. Instead of relying on the cellular phone network, WiFi calling and texting use an available WiFi network to place your call over the Internet.
Clearly, if you don’t have a cellular signal or it’s spotty, the ability to make WiFi calls comes in handy. But that isn’t the only reason you’ll want to use WiFi calling.
WiFi calling is perfect for overseas travelers because there’s typically no roaming or international charge for making calls or sending texts back home. Sprint doesn’t charge for WiFi calls to your family back in the United States, but WiFi calling isn’t supported in some countries, including Australia and China. T-Mobile doesn’t charge roaming fees for WiFi calls but will deduct your call minutes for calls made between U.S. lines if you don’t have an unlimited plan. And Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile will still charge an international rate if you call an international line using your U.S.-based smartphone.
How to make a WiFi call
WiFi calling isn’t automatically enabled on smartphones. To turn yours on, go to the Settings menu. On iPhones go to Settings > Phone and then toggle on WiFi calling. On Android, you’ll generally find WiFi settings under Settings > Networks > Call, where you can then toggle on WiFi calling. You'll find carrier-specific instructions below.
Once you activate WiFi calling, you dial or text as usual. The routing of your call or text is handled automatically in the background.
Does my carrier offer WiFi calling?
All major cell phone carriers now support WiFi calling, with support for the most recent iPhones and Android phones. Here’s the latest on which phones support WiFi calling for each of the major carriers:
Sprint WiFi calling is available on most recent Android devices and iPhones, starting with the iPhone 5C. Check your phone’s settings menu to see if it’s supported. for Android phone, got to Settings and look for the WiFi Calling option. To get device-specific support to set up WiFi calling, go to Device Support.
T-Mobile: All new T-Mobile phones support Wifi calling. To find out if your existing model supports it, go to the Devices page, find your device, select "WiFi" from "browse by categories," choose "Turon on/off WiFi calling" and follow the instructions.
AT&T has 22 devices for sale now that support WiFi Calling, including the latest models from Apple, Samsung, and LG. To find out if your phone supports WiFi calling, go to Device Support, find and select your device, select "View All Solutions," selection "Calling" and then "Wi-Fi Calling" to view the instructions. If WiFi calling isn't listed, your phone isn't compatible.
Verizon Wireless doesn't have a definitive list, but new Android phones and iPhones should support it. To turn on Wifi calling, on Android, follow the directions on Verizon's Activate WiFi Calling - Android page. You'll also find instructions for iPhones on Verizon's Turn Wi-Fi Calling On/Off page. It says it's for iPhone 7/7Plus at the top of the page, but it applies to iPhone 6 / 6 Plus / 6s / 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 8 / 8 Plus and iPhone X as well.
Of course, if your handset doesn't support Wi-Fi calling, you may be able to find some workarounds. Apps like FaceTime, Google Voice, Line, Skype and WeChat allow you to make voice and video calls over WiFi as well as send text messages.
How WiFi calling compares to cellular
Thanks to the growing popularity of free public WiFi hotspots, you may not need to pay another dime to make a call again. In fact, Cisco VNI predicts global hotspots will increase double from 2018 to 2021, resulting in 254 million hotspots.
But a cheap price tag doesn’t always equate with high quality. Trying to get the best signal for a WiFi call is challenging. Many times, the quality of service is through individual users with a WiFi network, and there is no guarantee there will be enough bandwidth for a high-quality call. Plus, signal strength can diminish as more people attempt to use the same network, such as at hotels, airports or athletic stadiums.
Consumers may have another gripe with WiFi calling service: there may be a 1- or 2-second delay in the conversation. Think of the delay you hear with the echo of the same news broadcast aired on different TVs in your home. If you’re accustomed to receiving an immediate response using traditional phone service, a conversation over WiFi may annoy you.
While it doesn’t make sense for most people to switch to a WiFi-only provider like Scratch Wireless, Wi-Fi calling can make a big difference if you have limited minutes, get poor reception or travel abroad.
Updated on 4/27/2018 with new carrier information
[Image credit: woman talking on cellphone in coffee shop via Shutterstock]