Wi-Fi Calling allows you to make and receive phone calls even when a mobile signal isn’t available.
In the UK, seven mobile networks currently offer Wi-Fi Calling support. The technology allows you to stay connected in places where a regular mobile signal isn’t available. You’ll be able to make and receive phone calls over wi-fi in the normal way, using your regular phone number and regular price plan.
To benefit from Wi-Fi Calling, you’ll need to have a compatible handset and price plan. At the time of writing, Wi-Fi Calling is available to customers on BT Mobile, EE, iD Mobile, O2, Sky Mobile, Three and Vodafone. However, individual networks have limitations on which price plans they support (e.g. only making it available to Pay Monthly customers) and handset compatibility may also vary (especially on Android-based smartphones).
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Wi-Fi Calling in the UK. We’ll start by discussing how the service works, before looking at how Wi-Fi Calling is implemented on different mobile networks. Finally, we’ll look at the limitations of the technology and alternative solutions if you’re not able to benefit from Wi-Fi Calling.
What is Wi-Fi Calling?
Wi-Fi Calling is a fairly new technology that allows you to make and receive phone calls using only a wi-fi internet connection (it’s also known by its technical name of VoWiFi). Your wi-fi network will typically need to have a minimum speed of at least 1-2Mbps.
The technology means you’re finally able to use your phone as normal in places with patchy coverage or no mobile signal (for instance, in rural areas, basement flats and on the London Underground).
The key difference between Wi-Fi Calling and other app-based solutions such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype is you’re able to use your normal phone number and price plan, with no need to use or install additional applications. Because of this, it’s best suited as a solution for improving coverage and for making regular UK phone calls already included in your plan. For calling abroad, traditional app-based solutions such as WhatsApp and Skype continue to offer a better solution in most cases.
Wi-Fi Calling: By Network
Wi-Fi Calling is currently available to the following customers on BT Mobile, EE, iD Mobile, O2, Sky Mobile, Three and Vodafone:
On BT Mobile, it’s possible to set up Wi-Fi Calling on any type of plan (including SIM Only, Family SIM & Pay Monthly) providing you have a compatible device with the latest software. At present, BT says the service is designed to work on the iPhone 5s or later, on the Samsung Galaxy S9, S9+ and A8 (2018).
It should also work on the following devices, but BT says they “can’t guarantee it’ll work with Wi-Fi Calling”:
If you’re connected to BT’s Wi-Fi Calling service, the network name on your phone will show as “BT WiFi Call”.
Source: BT Mobile Help: Wi-Fi Calling and how to set it up
EE was the first UK network to have support for Wi-Fi Calling, with the service having been available to customers since April 2015.
To use Wi-Fi Calling on EE, you’ll need to be on an EE Pay Monthly plan (including SIM Only) or on an EE business contract. You’ll also need to have a handset that’s compatible with the service.
At present, the service is designed to work on the following devices:
The network name on your mobile phone will show as “EE WiFi Call” when you’re connected to the service.
On iD Mobile, you’ll have access to Wi-Fi Calling on all Pay Monthly plans, providing you have a compatible handset with the latest software updates installed.
According to iD Mobile, their Wi-Fi Calling service is designed to work on the following devices:
If you’re using an iPhone, you’ll need to have iOS 11.2 or later, as well as the iD Mobile carrier settings version 31.1 or later. You can check this by going to Settings > General > About on your iPhone whilst connected to the iD network.
On O2, you’ll have access to Wi-Fi Calling on Pay Monthly and SIM Only contracts, providing you have one of the following compatible devices:
If you have an Android-based smartphone, your device will typically need to be running on O2-provided firmware. In most cases, this means your handset will need to have been purchased directly from O2. However, it will also work on certain handsets purchased from a third-party provider.
Wi-Fi Calling has been available on Sky Mobile since April 2018, but is currently available only on a very limited range of flagship Samsung and Sony smartphones.
At the time of writing, Sky says Wi-Fi Calling is compatible with the following handsets:
The handset will need to have been purchased directly from Sky on one of their Swap36 or Swap24 contracts.
Three offers a wi-fi calling service to all of their customers, including both Pay Monthly and Pay As You Go customers. To use the ‘inTouch’ wi-fi calling functionality, you’ll need a compatible smartphone with the latest software updates installed:
If you have an Android smartphone that isn’t purchased directly from Three, or if you have another smartphone that isn’t listed above, it might be possible to use the Three InTouch application to add wi-fi calling to your device (available on the iPhone 4 and later, and smartphones running Android 4.0+).
On Vodafone, it’s possible to use Wi-Fi Calling if you have a compatible price plan and handset. You’ll need to be a Pay Monthly customer on a Red Extra, Red Entertainment, Red or Red Value plan. Handsets currently supported by the service are:
In order to activate the service, you’ll need to log in to My Vodafone. Go to Settings and Extra > Calling options and toggle the Wi-Fi Calling option to On. Once you’re connected to the Vodafone Wi-Fi Calling service, the network name on your handset will show as “Vodafone Wi-Fi”.
Unfortunately, Wi-Fi Calling isn’t yet available on other mobile networks like giffgaff, Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
Drawbacks & Limitations
There are a number of key drawbacks and limitations associated with Wi-Fi Calling:
You can only use Wi-Fi Calling when you’re in the UK. At present, all UK mobile networks restrict things so you’re only able to use Wi-Fi Calling when you’re inside the UK. Although there’s no technical reason why Wi-Fi Calling couldn’t work abroad, there’s a fear from the mobile networks this will cannibalise their international roaming revenues (as Wi-Fi Calling could potentially allow you to bypass these charges).
- Phone calls might drop when you move out of the wi-fi coverage area, unless your phone also supports 4G Calling. If your phone or price plan doesn’t support 4G Calling, you’ll find phone calls dropping every time you leave the range of your wi-fi network. This could also happen if there are connectivity problems on wi-fi (e.g. if heavy congestion causes the speed to drop). It isn’t possible for a Wi-Fi Calling phone call to seamlessly transfer from wi-fi to 2G or 3G.
- Some network features aren’t compatible with Wi-Fi Calling. If you’re connected to Wi-Fi Calling, you may not be able to change certain settings (e.g. call waiting, call forwarding or withheld number settings). Some network features may also stop working e.g. call recording and conference call features.
- Android smartphones may require network-specific firmware. If you’re using an Android smartphone on certain mobile networks like EE and O2, it will only be compatible with Wi-Fi Calling if you have the right network-specific firmware. In practice, this means your handset will need to have been purchased directly from the mobile network (as opposed to being purchased SIM-free or from retailers like the Carphone Warehouse).
- Wi-Fi Calling will use your regular mobile network price plan. Wi-Fi Calling will always use your regular price plan. While this means you’ll be able to use the inclusive minutes on your plan, it could also mean things like international calling are prohibitively expensive.
Alternatives to Wi-Fi Calling
At present, Wi-Fi Calling is only available to customers with a compatible handset and price plan on selected mobile networks (BT Mobile, EE, iD Mobile, O2, Sky Mobile, Three and Vodafone).
If you’re struggling with poor coverage, there may be alternative solutions such as using an app or accessory for better indoor coverage. This might come in the form of a box which is designed to improve the coverage in your home.
If you’re looking to save money on phone calls (e.g. whilst travelling abroad or calling internationally), it might be worth using an app-based solution instead. For instance, applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype allow you to call people in other countries outside of your regular price plan.