WiFi Calling: The Way of the Future?

by Sandra Henshaw - , Last Updated on May 18, 2015, Industry News

WiFi calling sounds pretty self explanatory. After all, you’ve probably been using Skype to call over WiFi for ages, right? But you might not understand WiFi calling as much as you think you do. With operator EE releasing a new WiFi calling process, we’re taking a look at this issue and telling you why it’s not really the same as Skype, as well as everything else you could possibly want to know!

Okay Then, What is WiFi Calling and Why Would I Want It?

WiFi calling is actually what you think it is, more or less. Using WiFi calling you’ll be able to call using a WiFi network, rather than a traditional 2G phone network. Why would you want to do this? Well, the main benefits are to those who live in isolated locations or places that get bad mobile reception. However, WiFi calling could mean that you can make calls in places where you usually can’t, such as on the underground, for example. Basically, you can call or text wherever there’s a WiFi hotspot.

Hold On, This Already Exists…

Yes, this does already kind of exist, but with a couple of differences. You can use a WiFi network to call over Skype, of course. However, Skype doesn’t link to your regular phone number, you’ll be calling from your Skype ID. A couple of other operators, O2 and Three, both also have their own WiFi calling apps. The difference between all of those and what EE are doing is continuity. All these other options are stand alone, which means that you need to open the appropriate app to do what you need to do. EE’s solution is part of your normal phone network, meaning calls appear in your regular call list, come from your regular phone number, and messages appear in your normal text inbox. In fact, you probably won’t even notice that you’re calling over WiFi, it’s identical to making a normal call…

What’s the Down Side?

Being able to make calls and send texts from anywhere sounds pretty good, and we’ll get into pricing and compatibility issues in a moment. But for now, there are a couple of downsides to EE’s WiFi calling plan. Currently WiFi calling won’t let you switch between services during a call. That means that if you call on WiFi and then move outside of the hotspot during the call, the call will simply hang up. EE knows this issue and is working to fix it, but say it’s likely to remain a problem until at least later this year.

Another, smaller, down side is that this is UK limited at the moment. So if you’re a frequent traveller you won’t be able to use WiFi calling outside of the country. Again, that’s something that’s likely to change though.

Which Operators Can I Go Through?

Right now EE is the only UK operator that’s launched a full on WiFi calling service, though there are limitations that we’ll get to in a moment. Vodafone, however, are planning to launch their service this summer. The other big contenders, O2 and Three, may do the same, but as we mentioned above they both have WiFi calling apps, and may choose to stick with those rather than launching a whole new service.

Phone Limitations…

EE are limiting the phones that are WiFi calling enabled, however. Firstly, your phone MUST come from EE, so buying a SIM free phone elsewhere and putting an EE SIM card inside isn’t going to give you WiFi calling. This is simply because the phone needs EE’s software on it in order to be able to connect. Secondly, not all phones are able to connect this way. Right now you’re limited to top end phones like the newest iPhones, the two Samsung Galaxy S6 models (regular and Edge), and the Lumia 640. EE are working to add more phones to this list though, and updates are also being added to phones that are already owned, so you won’t necessarily need to buy a brand new phone.

How Do I Connect?

If you’ve gone for this option with EE, then you’ll just need to text 150 with the message “wifi calling” to enable WiFi calling from the operator. You’ll get a special EE app, and will need to go into the settings menu of this app and turn on WiFi calling. But then, that’s it. Your phone will automatically switch to WiFi calling whenever it detects a WiFi network that it knows (such as your home or office network). So it’s pretty easy. Presumably Vodafone’s new network will work in a similar way, though there’s no news on that yet.

And the Price…

Um… nothing. Well, pretty much nothing. WiFi calling will be included in your regular calling package, at least with EE. If you’ve got unlimited calls and texts WiFi calling will make no difference to your phone bill at all. But… and this is a little sneaky… if you DON’T have unlimited calling or texting then calls and texts sent over WiFi calling WILL count towards your monthly limit, so you might want to watch out for that.

Vodafone haven’t released any pricing information yet, though again their rates are likely to be the same more or less as EE’s. Should you choose to use WiFi calling with the O2 or Three apps (called TU Go in O2’s case, and InTouch with Three) then you’ll also be paying nothing, and the apps themselves are also free downloads.

WiFi calling does have the potential to improve phone service dramatically for some people, most notably those who live in areas that have bad mobile reception. However, it could also mean more convenience for regular customers as well, since you should be able to make calls and send texts from more locations. You’re not really paying any extra for the service either, which is nice too. Personally, we’re going to wait until calls can transfer between WiFi and traditional networks before giving this a try, but all in all WiFi calling looks like it could be a bonus for most of us.