What is Wi-Fi calling and how does it work?

Wi-Fi Calling
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Network coverage has been steadily improving, but there are still many people around the world who can’t get a decent phone signal in their homes. There are gaps in many networks, particularly in rural areas, as a quick glance at Open Signal’s coverage maps reveals. Wi-Fi calling could be the answer.

What is Wi-Fi calling?

Wi-Fi calling allows you to seamlessly use any Wi-Fi connection to make or receive calls when your network signal is weak. If you’re at home and there’s a dead spot in the back bedroom, or the bars on your smartphone drop down to one when you go into the bathroom, then your phone can automatically switch to your home Wi-Fi network and use that to make and receive calls.

The beauty of Wi-Fi calling is that it should work seamlessly. Assuming your carrier supports it, you’ve activated the appropriate setting on your phone, and you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network, then it should kick in automatically whenever you need it. All the calls you make and messages you send through Wi-Fi calling appear as normal in your usual messages app and call logs.

The icon in your notification bar might change to a small phone receiver with a Wi-Fi icon above it, or say VoLTE (short for voice over LTE), but, apart from that, you shouldn’t notice any difference between Wi-Fi calls and regular calls through your mobile network.

Bear in mind that, although Wi-Fi calling should be capable of handing over to the network if you move out of range of the Wi-Fi router, there’s a chance it will pause or drop the call. It depends on your carrier, network, and device.

Checking with your carrier

Different carriers have different policies regarding Wi-Fi calling, so your first port of call in trying to set it up is your carrier. In some cases, you might need to pay extra or jump through some hoops to activate Wi-Fi calling. Below are some pages on Wi-Fi calling from the four major U.S. carriers to help you get started:

Make sure that you read the terms and conditions carefully — calls and messages made using Wi-Fi calling are not necessarily free. In fact, carriers may charge their usual rates or subtract them from your plan allowance. Make sure you check to avoid any nasty surprises on your phone bill. You may also find that the feature doesn’t work overseas.

Carriers can also decide which devices they’ll support, so even if your phone is capable of Wi-Fi calling, you should confirm that the carrier allows it on your device.

Once you’ve confirmed that your carrier supports Wi-Fi calling for your phone and you’ve activated it on your account, you’ll need to make sure your phone has the right settings turned on.

How to turn on Wi-Fi calling on an iPhone

Wi-Fi Calling iPhone

It’s easy to activate Wi-Fi calling on an iPhone, but you will need to have an iPhone 5C or later.

  • Go to Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling and toggle it on.

How to turn on Wi-Fi calling on an Android phone

Activating Wi-Fi calling on an Android phone is just as easy, but the exact location of the setting may vary. For most Android phones:

  • Open the Phone app and tap the menu icon (aka, the three vertical dots at the upper-right corner). Then, tap Settings and you should see a Wi-Fi calling option that you can toggle on.

For a Samsung Galaxy:

  • Go to Settings > Connections > More connection settings and you should see a Wi-Fi calling option.

Just to complicate matters, some carriers put the setting elsewhere. For example, to activate the feature on Verizon:

  • Go to Settings > Advanced Calling and you should find an Activate Wi-Fi Calling option.

If you’re having trouble getting Wi-Fi calling to work on your Android device, then refer to your carrier’s website for specific instructions.

You can test whether Wi-Fi calling is working by activating Airplane mode, then turning just Wi-Fi back on, and connecting to your home Wi-Fi network. The icon should appear in your notification bar and you’ll be able to make or receive calls.

Alternatives to Wi-Fi calling

If you find that your device doesn’t support Wi-Fi calling or there’s a problem with your carrier, then you can always opt for an alternative. Check out the best video chat apps and the best messaging apps for some ideas. The only problem is that you and the person you want to call will both need to have the app installed and your messages and calls will be contained within that app, so they won’t appear in the default messages app or call logs on your phone.