Smartphone technology and cellular service just will not sit still, will they? While that can often be a frustrating thing for consumer’s, a new feature recently rolled out by AT&T–Wi-Fi calling–stands to shape the way that you plan and make your calls with iPhones and hopefully, before too long, Android devices; our guide will show you how it’s done!
For the entire duration of cellular technology’s popular use, it’s been limited by the quality of signal currently available on your device, depending upon your location. Those who live in urban areas have never had to worry about signal strength, but anyone living in rural areas, traveling abroad, or on a long road trip has likely been forced to struggle with those constantly fluctuating “bars” of service that control whether or not you’ll be able to make a phone call.
In December of 2015, AT&T decided to shake up that landscape in a monumental way, by finally allowing “Wi-Fi calling” on their network. So popular (and useful!) is this feature, that almost all major cellular service providers hopped onto the bandwagon and now offer their own Wi-Fi calling support for consumers with the appropriate mobile devices. If you do on a smartphone, which is likely, there’s a good chance that it’s an Android device or an Apple iPhone, the combined market share of which utterly dominates any existing competition. Sorry Windows Phone and Blackberry users; your day hasn’t come quite yet.
Normally, phone calls from your mobile device were restricted to the use of your cellular service, which was always dependent upon local signal strength. 4 bars of 4G LTE? No problem, friends, you can talk all day and all night and the reception will be crystal-clear. A single bar of 3G service? You’d better get your words out as quickly as you can because that call is dropping like it’s hot.
Individual messaging and communication apps started to shake up this traditional way of doing things before service providers decided to change their tune. In a bid to improve the way that people communicate on their smartphones (and really, this was a huge boon to app users) several apps started allowing users to take advantage of their local Wi-Fi connection to both send messages and make calls.
Now, you can have access to the same exact feature without the need of apps as it’s commonly offered by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. However, given that this is only a recent trend, the availability of Wi-Fi calling is going to be hugely dependent on both the type of device you’re using and your service provider. In order to prevent this guide from becoming obscenely cluttered with cross-references, exceptions, and peculiar instructions for every type of device available, we’re going to focus on AT&T’s provided Wi-Fi calling as it relates to the two most popular mobile operating systems in use–Android and iOS.
Wi-FI Calling: How it Works
As stated above, a traditional call from your Android device or iPhone is dependent upon the quality of your cell signal. Low-quality service is going to equate to a low-quality call, or in the worst cases, no calls at all, or calls that are dropped in the middle of a conversation. You don’t even need to be in a rural area without reliable access in order for this to happen; many urban areas feature “cold spots” where cellular reception is mysteriously absent, even though you’d only have to walk a few yards in either direction for it to suddenly spring back.
Though this technology has improved over the years, it hasn’t eliminated the frustrations that come from poor call quality as a result of lacking service. Wi-Fi calling remedies this in a huge way.
Instead of being eternally dependent on the quality of your reception, you can now use any open Wi-Fi connection to call out as well. Awful cell phone reception? It’s no longer a problem as long as you have access to decent Wi-Fi.
And decent Wi-Fi is the key phrase that’s required for this feature to really flourish. Just the same as any online activity that needs a constant, smooth internet connection, Wi-Fi calls won’t work any better than spotty cellular calls if that internet connection isn’t solid. Still, with nationwide improvements to online infrastructure, it’s almost becoming difficult to find regions of the US that don’t have access to the high-speed internet that Wi-Fi calling requires.
You can monitor your proximity to Wi-Fi connections, as well as whether or not they’re open and available for use, from your phone’s settings. If you’re in the comfort of your own home, on your own internet service, you can even give Wi-Fi calling a try without any repercussion. It’s what I’d recommend, since getting the hang of a new feature is always easiest when you’re not hard-pressed to use it.
After finishing the following guide, you should be well-prepared to use Wi-Fi calling any time that you’re out and about. Frequently appropriate locations include coffee shops, restaurants, shopping centers, airports, and any other location that has an open, reliable Wi-Fi point. Many urban areas are even implementing “city-wide Wi-Fi” that leaves an entire urban sprawl with reliable Wi-Fi access, though many of these require additional paid plans and passwords before you’ll be able to connect to them.
No matter where you’re connecting from, the process will be largely the same. Conveniently, if a location does require a password, your mobile device will automatically store your preferred settings for the next time that you use it. If you’re a daily commuter that hits the same locations during your every outing, this feature is right up your alley.
Wi-Fi Calling on Android
We’ll take a look at Google’s Android OS first since it will be the most quickly-addressed platform between these two.
Unfortunately, as of this article’s publication, Wi-Fi calling is not currently available on Android devices through AT&T. This is a crying shame, mainly because each of AT&T’s competitors has since rolled out their own Wi-Fi calling options for phones on both popular operating systems. Meanwhile, AT&T’s Wi-Fi calling is only available on newer models of Apple’s iPhone series.
If competition serves to predict businesses’ decisions for consumers, we will be seeing Wi-Fi calling on Android devices soon. It’s simply too large of a market share for AT&T to ignore, and the fact that we’ve seen this service deployed on Android devices through all of its competitors is a fairly sure sign.
Wi-Fi Calling on iOS
While the above fact may currently be a bummer for Android users, iPhone users aren’t being similarly left in the dust.
It is important, however, that you have the right model of iPhone before you start digging around for the Wi-Fi calling feature. It’s also important that your iPhone has the most up-to-date release of the iOS operating system.
Wi-Fi calling is available on iPhone 6, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6 Plus, and the iPhone 6S Plus. You also have to ensure that you’re running iOS 9.0 or higher on your compatible device.
If those above prerequisites are met, then you’re good to go! However, even if your phone and iOS version are on that list, you’re still going to have to activate Wi-Fi calling manually; it’s not enabled by default, and will require a quick trip through your phone’s settings menu.
On iPhones, this is only going to require a few taps on the screen.
- Go to your Settings menu and select Phone.
- If your phone model is new enough you should see the Wi-Fi Calling option, but it will be deactivated.
- Tap the Wi-Fi Calling option to activate it.
- Next, you’ll likely be asked to confirm your current address. The reason for this has to do with emergency services, and their inability to identify your location through a Wi-Fi call.
Finish those few steps, and you’ll be up and running in no time at all! As stated before, if your home already has a strong Wi-Fi connection, go ahead and give your freshly activated feature a try, to see how it feels. Remember, the strength and quality of your Wi-Fi will determine the outcome of your Wi-Fi calling. If you’re going to be an avid user of this constantly improving feature, it’s going to pay off to start saving more attention for the status of the wireless internet networks that you’re accessing from your phone.
While it’s regrettable that AT&T doesn’t offer a Wi-Fi calling feature for Android devices (yet), most iPhone users who’ve embraced the service have been pleased with it. It will allow you to circumvent some of the pain from low-reception areas, and can also help you to save on your phone’s monthly data allowance!
Hopefully, the above guide will help you to get started with AT&T’s Wi-Fi calling for iPhones and when that feature is inevitably released for Android devices, we’ll update it to include them too. Until then, this is a developing trend that’s worth your attention, and one that aims to shape (and liberate!) the way that we make and receive calls on our mobile devices.