Feature Friday: Wifi Calling

So I’ve been using Google Fi on my Nexus 6 (the only phone it is offered on right now) and put my T-Mobile sim card back into my old iPhone which I bought from T-Mobile.

So now I’m carrying two phones for the time being and both have wifi calling on them.

T-Mobile has offered wifi calling on their phones for a long time now.

And wifi calling is one of the features that comes with Google Fi.

I happen to be in our beach house this long holiday weekend where the cell coverage is basically non-existent and in places like this wifi calling is a godsend.

As I understand it, wifi calling offloads your voice and data services from the carrier’s network onto a wifi network if the wifi network has a stronger connection to the Internet. This all happens seamlessly and you don’t have to do anything to cause this to happen.

What’s particularly great is I can be on a call in my house on wifi calling, leave and get into my car, connect the phone to my car’s audio system, drive away and wifi calling will move the call over to the carrier’s network without dropping it.

I’m not sure why all carriers don’t offer wifi calling as a standard feature of their service. It reduces congestion on their networks, extends their networks, and provides a great utility to their customers.

I really like it.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Steve Hallock

    The entire reason I’ve been with T-Mobile for the last few years. Another bonus is that no matter where you are in the world, a wifi call is considered a domestic call. So as long as you have wifi there’s no international charges.

    1. garydpdx

      Yes, the carriers make their money on your data plan. It is still awkward to keep your costs down by foregoing data, going with a traditional voice/text plan and using wi-fi for apps, mail and calls with Skype, FB Messenger, etc. But is is becoming more doable, as Fred points out.

  2. Matt Kruza

    Economics. This is massively deflationary long-term. Of course right now they “just offer it”, but if a good majority start using it, it will make big data packages very hard to sell. I would guess 80% of the time (if not more), you are within earshot of wifi. And the times that you aren’t (often driving), you don’t need big data packages. The $15 a month unlimited plan will exist within the next decade, (probably or almost certainly from one of the non big four, but will eventually pressure even that oligopoly). We live a deflationary world folks!

    1. Avi Deitcher

      I also think carriers have these big dreams of themselves as “more than just dumb pipes” (or “Uncarrier” or whatever). If you don’t really need their big capital expensive towers all of the time, that is threatening to them. Same as that microcell company with specifically overlapping cells doing trials in SF (forget their name at the moment).Personally, I think that a carrier that focused on being really capable and reliable pipes with fantastic customer services and good prices is a great company.

      1. Matt Kruza

        Completely agree. And, they absolutely do think of themselves as more. AT&T and Verizon are $100B+ companies, when in reality they should be probably $20-$50B in a true competitive market. This “rent extraction” is what every wealthy person / company in America focuses on. I am not criticizing persay, and that is why govt. regs on it are often ineffective / dumb. Its human nature to “talk your own book” and look for your own interests. However, the key is to let other companies “compete away excess profits”.. which will eventually happen. Govt. just needs to keep from letting the big boys rig the laws in their favor, which is completely in line with capitalism

  3. William Mougayar

    Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) is needed on the phone for this to work. UMA has been around for about 10 years, but why is it only available on a handful of headsets and carriers?Does this have a future or it’s just another way for carriers to add $10/month on your bill for a very small segment of users: ones with a supported UMA handset AND bad cellular coverage AND having great Wi-Fi.

    1. JimHirshfield

      No extra charge for WiFi calling on T-Mobile.

      1. William Mougayar

        Interesting. it’s 5-10 or $15 on Rogers in Canada.

    2. Mario Cantin

      William, is this available from any Canadian carriers? I’ve never heard of it here. [edit: Never mind, I just saw you’ve answered it below πŸ™‚ ]

      1. William Mougayar

        It is, by Rogers apparently, but seems only HTC and BlackBerry handsets are supported.https://www.rogers.com/busi

        1. Mario Cantin

          Time to switch to Bkackberry Passport then … not, ha ha!I’m too married to my IOS devices, for better or for worse.

  4. JimHirshfield

    It’s the holiday weekend…who ya gonna call?

    1. Matt Kruza

      He’s still trying to make it in the industry so probably cold-calling promising high school entreprneeurs to get the pipeline going πŸ™‚ right? Of he invested in twitter.. etsy etc.. I guess he can just relax this weekend!

    2. LE

      Ha. I’m working today it’s just like any other day to me. My wife is working as well (she is on a 9 day straight schedule right now). The kids are at camp. There are two handyman’s at the office painting doors for me. There are workers at my house doing the bathroom including the owner of the business. I’ve gotten emails from people that I am doing business with. You need to get yourself a business Jim so that you to can experience the joy of 24x7x52. [1]People not working? Sure, postal workers, bank employees and so on.[1] Which to me is the only thing I’ve really ever known and also way better than having someone else set your schedule or tell you where you have to be or what you should be doing. It is complete freedom, despite the hours that you end up working. When the painters leave I will probably fly my RC Heli around it’s better than yoga.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Well, I was commenting on Fred’s weekend agenda. But now that you mention it, I’m sure he falls into the same camp of not having anyone tell him where he needs to be or what he should be doing. Happy 4th (or 3rd) of July to you and yours!

        1. LE

          Fred’s schedule is quite rigorous in terms of the number of meetings, events and obligations that he has (Joanne as well). I can’t even come close to getting a grip on that type of lifestyle and the attention that it must take to keep it going. If I ever had that intensity day to day I would probably have to take up yoga as well.

        2. LE

          Little suggestion for disqus v2.0. The conversation summary that is sent everyday should include who upvoted your comments. Often you never see who upvoted things that you said unless you visit the old comments which I rarely do (unless someone replies to a comment that I make).Kirk Love’s https://pegg.co/ tells you when somebody bumps your board so there is that feedback which is nice I have noticed. Disqus should do something similar.

          1. JimHirshfield

            Good idea.

  5. JimHirshfield

    I love this feature. My daughter has it on her phone. I don’t have it because I bought an unlocked OnePlus One phone. Another conundrum is, why can’t I use WiFi calling on BYOHandset?

    1. William Mougayar

      you can if you Skype for $2-3/month, they let you dial any number from the App. I use it all the times.

  6. Ro Gupta

    Its a nice feature. More about convenience than cost savings I think since so many plans have unlimited voice these days. Seems only the upstarts who are competing on data–what most new gen consumers only really care about–vs trying to protect voice, as the incumbents are doing, are incentivized to offer it. Was just looking for a data-only plan for a phone to be used in a sensory device my team is building, and sure enough theres no such thing on ATT, VZ, etc. Only for tablets.

    1. JimHirshfield

      Who ya gonna call?

      1. Richard


  7. kenberger

    the cool thing is you don’t need Google Fi for this. You don’t even need any sim or subscription at all (if you only stick to wifi areas). All you need today is the Hangouts+dialer apps and a Google Voice number.You then put the app on your phones and tick “ring this phone when someone calls my GV #”. And it works this way, worldwide, with no extra charges.The cool part about Google Fi specifically is that it in the US it roams between T-mo’s and Sprint’s LTE networks depending on best signal. And it also actively finds you wifi signals and connects to them. And the international roaming is incredible– almost every country covered, 3G only but this is usually fast enough in Europe and Asia. You even get coverage in Cuba and Myanmar! (voice only)

    1. LE

      and a Google Voice numberGV is a total YMMV situation. I have several GV numbers that I use and I don’t find the operation super reliable or stable. Enough strange things happen from time to time, and with no particular consistency, such that using GV can be extremely frustrating. An example is a call that came in the other day where you have to hit a key “hit 1 to send to voicemail hit 2” (and so on) but GV didn’t recognize the keys that were hit on the POTS phone. Nothing that happens consistently. Typically different quirks and if there is a problem there is nobody to talk or complain to.Dealing with any large company, especially one that you can’t even contact, is always a complete waste of time and a clusterfuck. Try getting someone with a brain at FIOS on the phone and getting an intelligent answer to a question or a problem. Or Comcast. When they send a repairman they send out what I call a “single function machine” that is, typically a guy who knows only what he does and nothing more than that. Probably knows a great deal about sports and beer I am sure.That is clearly by design. They are not hiring people that are creative or can think beyond what they are trained to do. [1][1] Forgetting even if they could hire those types, if they did those types of employees would get wrapped up in all sorts of issues not central to the task at hand and waste way to much time on the job. So this is by design. They are not looking for people that don’t fit that mold of a single function. It would simply cause their labor costs to increase with no benefit to the bottom line relative to the customer satisfaction earned.

  8. feargallkenny

    i have been looking into this for ATT’s non existent service at our house and was just thiking they should be payg for the micrcell product they have to extend via wifi – it is $339 (see herehttps://www.amazon.com/gp/p…We just got a simplisafe alarm and had the same issue of zero cell coverage so they sent us a wifi adapter for free.

  9. The Heasman

    Seamless network transfer to wifi, like how Cell phones originally worked (changing the signal to a better frequency if performance wavered).Can’t believe it took us till 2015 to start getting this right.

  10. pointsnfigures

    Pretty cool. Where I go in Minnesota there is no cell coverage at all so this would come in handy. Of course, in Chicago you could pay a 9% tax on the service since the city is now taxing all streaming services that come from the cloud-based on IP address…..Also think that a product like Venium distributed widely might be able to enhance this.

  11. andyswan

    Wait you’re telling me people still do voice calls?

    1. Erin

      I know right? I don’t understand when people want to use the phone for meetings. I’m like, you want me to talk to you into this little thing? I mean, granted it is called a phone, but Skype is free and we can actually see each others’ faces. That may mot be the point you were making but I also hate the phone.

      1. LE

        but Skype is free and we could’ve actually seen each others’ facesIn most cases to me that isn’t an advantage it’s a disadvantage. Voice only means that I can lean back and relax, type, do other things if needed w/o impacting the person on the other end of the line or them seeing my reaction. So I can feel free to be myself and to even make faces if something bothers me w/o worrying that they will notice my reactions. And almost certainly the ability to listen and comprehend may be deprecated by having to process visual information. [1]Now if I was negotiating then it might be the exact opposite. I would want either to be in person or have a video call. The reason is I want to see the other person’s reactions and process that in addition to their voice, tone and so on. That is extremely helpful to me as I can easily read those reactions and micro reactions. Plus I can not only control my reactions but I can send out other info to throw them off.[1] I actually identified this when listening to music. I found out the music almost always sounds better at night in the car when it’s dark than in the day. I hypothesized that this would be because the brain didn’t have to process as much visual information (color, light and objects etc.) so therefore more brain could be devoted to appreciation of music. Now the other side of this is that I always like music better watching live music videos on youtube for example. The reason for this is most likely that the visual information enhances the music not detracts from it.

        1. Erin

          That makes total sense.

        2. BillMcNeely

          Communication is 80% non verbal. I wonder why we (western society) insist on leaving this input out?

          1. LE

            Because it’s a disadvantage unless for some reason it’s an advantage the way I see it.Perhaps also other societies are less in tune to non verbal cues and/or other societies are honest and less manipulative than our culture.

        3. Matt Kruza

          Well stated. We need privacy and not to have EVERYTHING micromanaged or judged, and this is one good example of that

        4. Lasse Clausen

          Body language conveys a large part of understanding meaning and emotion so I always prefer video call.

    2. Pete Griffiths

      They’re kinda like texting but you speak. And there’s this thing called voicemail – you leave a message by talking into some kind of recorder. My mother told me about it. I know it’s nuts but….whatever.

  12. Dave Pinsen

    I happen to be in our beach house this long holiday weekend where the cell coverage is basically non-existentMultiple house problems.

    1. LE

      The crime novel (that I am not going to write) involves using locations where cell phones don’t ping. Along those lines think about all the crimes that are solved today with cell phone pings, security camera footage from gas stations, convenience stores, ATMs, people’s houses and so on. I think one of the ways that they caught the NY prison escapees was by a “trail cam”. I actually have one of those that I bought to document something that was going on in my neighborhood.http://www.outdoorhub.com/n

      1. Vasudev Ram

        >The crime novel (that I am not going to write) involves using locations where cell phones don’t ping.Ha ha, that reminds me of the famous Sherlock Holmes story about the dog that did not bark in the night. See:https://www.google.co.in/se…for which the first result is:https://en.wikipedia.org/wi

        1. LE

          I like that.By the way as an added benefit places where cell phones don’t ping typically have small podunk police forces with less experience solving major crimes (because they are rare) and knowing how to preserve evidence at the early stages. (Info gleaned solely from watching TV and common sense..)

          1. Vasudev Ram

            “podunk”I had come across that word before, IIRC, but didn’t check out what it meant at the time, Googled it now and understood. Interesting. Mark Twain was mentioned in the results. His novels are good fun to read. Really takes you away to the places he describes.

  13. LE

    I’m not sure why all carriers don’t offer wifi calling as a standard feature of their service.Probably has to do with patents.If you search the USPTO for just the term “call handoff” (like that, with quotes) youcome up with 514 matches.http://patft.uspto.gov/neta…So as I say “if something doesn’t make sense there is probably something about it that you don’t know” my guess is that in this case the thing you don’t know is the lack of the ability to license the necessary patents from the owner(s).

  14. Matt Zagaja

    Sprint added this to my iPhone but when I went to enable it the headset warned me it’d disable the “handoff” feature that allows me to answer my phone on my computer or Apple Watch. So I passed on it.

  15. Adam Blitzer

    I switched to Tmobile after reading some of your posts and general frustrations with VZ. I’ve been in China and Peru the past two weeks and the unlimited international data was incredible. I’m on my farm for the long weekend, similar situation where there is no/limited service, and just fielded a call. Everyone at the table was shocked to hear a phone ring.Coverage still lacks a bit, but in general I’m impressed.

  16. Shaun Dakin

    Have you tried the new Facebook messenger Video call feature? Very cool (just like skype and facetime of course).. it just works. I surprise my Wife all the time with it during the day while she is at work πŸ™‚ She is a Pediatrician.

  17. Shaun Dakin

    This assumes that you have good WiFi at the beach home (anywhere). Where I go (Block Island) we are stuck with DSL “broadband” and the WiFi is horrible. In fact, it is pretty much useless and there is no alternative (other than satellite).

    1. William Mougayar

      good point that in most places that cellular is bad, typically internet access is also sub-par.

      1. Adam Blitzer

        Think about high rise buildings and basements. Thick walls/below surface but smack dab in the middle of NYC/SF. It’s a nice feature.

  18. Drew Meyers

    My former boss, who lives in Laguna Beach, has been a T-Mobile user for a long, long time precisely because of this feature. His cell basically doesn’t work at his house on any cell networks, and he works from home, so that’s a fairly large problem. T-mobile’s wifi calling solved that for him.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Ironically, I have heard Atherton, CA in the heart of SV has the same problem-no cell service!

  19. Pete Griffiths

    Very frustrated. I signed up for Fi the day it was announced – still don’t have it. Grrrrr.

  20. Pete Griffiths

    The other good feature of Fi is data rollover.

  21. Michael Anderson

    This ties in nicely with a San Diego startup company called BandwidthX. bandwidthx.com I like what they are doing and (hopefully) their platform will open up general wi-fi ultization for the masses.

  22. Wyatt Brown

    There seem to be TWO topics here:1. Getting “connected”, for calls or other data, wherever needed, and >2. Not being unreasonably charged for use of that data (calls are data, too).Consider- The utility of WiFi is geo-spatially very limited, and often suffers limited bandwidth.- Wireless network geo-spatial coverage is far superior to WiFi, but lacks bandwidth, too.- Often, the same companies provide the data for both WiFi and wireless networks. – Someone has to provide, support and PAY FOR the bandwidth (call/other data use).Can anyone describe why we should invest in the complication of WiFi handoff tech/products, over making wireless networks more robust and more affordable via infrastructure and policy evolution?After all, WiFi and wireless networks tap the same main trunk infrastructure. Why not invest in getting rid of the need for WiFi altogether? Isn’t that the “big vision” that matters most? @wmoug:disqus , thoughts?Cheers!

  23. Terry J Leach

    Resilient technology. We need more resilient technology versus fragile siloed technology if we are to be Xaas economy.

  24. Bugsnuffer

    What I like about Fi is that I think 90% of tech fails the ‘systems thinking done’ test. Clearly, this is how connectivity needs to work: the fact that we still drop, and have to change networks, in 2015, is laughably stupid. Who can fix this? Google, but my problem is they are still drawing 90% of their profits from peddling ads. The Telcos will never make this all work.I love the nexus 6. Still waiting to try Fi. I do agree with the sentiment on this thread though: if someone calls me now, I generally think ‘who is this boorish noob?’

  25. rh

    Between Whatsapp for international and Vonage domestic one doesn’t have to use cell minutes. Both work of wifi and data plans reducing the need for being dependent on calling plans.

  26. Mark Essel

    Back when Gizmo offered free wifi calling (2010?) I dropped my data plan and survived off of wifi alone for a couple of years. My phone battery life was amazing but I was not always reachable (Cablevisions optimum wifi covered a good deal of my locations even then).I also saved ~1k a year which was a nice perkFor the past few years I’ve had Verizon has a carrier (Michelle encouraged it :). I’m surprised with the acceleration of network growth and demand for always on connectivity that I still see plenty of dead spots (commuting to NY on the LIRR).We’re probably just a couple of breakthroughs away from a massive throughput spike in availability. Data access won’t hit a demand dropoff like electricity or water (there’s only so much folks can use). We’ll always find new ways to use more network connectivity.

  27. John Revay

    Fred,How are the reviews for Google Fi ?Can’t wait for this to go main streamMy biggest issue is that I am still walking around w/ a iPhone, other than that would love to switch off verizon

  28. abbashaiderali

    It’s a shame that the largest US carriers (AT&T & Verizon) don’t offer this. At my new home I have no service on AT&T, but they’re my provider of choice (long conversation as to why). I contacted them for a solution and they offered up their microcell which connects to my home internet connection and gives me full signal. Here are the catches: They wanted $199 for the microcell hardware, and making calls while connected to the microcell uses up my minutes. Ridiculous. I spend enough with them that I got the charges waived but because of their billing it still uses my minutes.That means that at home, even though I’m not really using AT&Ts network, I still pay for calls.