A Wi-Fi network can place calls when you’re trapped in an area with spotty phone signal. James Martin/CNET
In addition to offering customers a cheaper alternative to their phone plans, one of the main draws of Google’s newly launched Project Fi service is that it will seamlessly switch a user’s phone service from cellular to Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi calling is nothing new; apps like Skype, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp make it easier for smartphone users to place calls over the Internet and forgo mobile networks altogether. But as this option becomes increasingly more beneficial to users, carriers have shown increasing interest in adopting Wi-Fi calling themselves. Whether it’s because they want to bolster their network coverage or improve user experience, some US carriers already provide the service, and now Google has jumped into the ring as well.
To help you make sense of what Wi-Fi calling is, why it’s important, and what you can use it for, CNET put together a handy guide to walk you through everything you need to know.
Instead of using your carrier’s network connection, users can make voice calls through a Wi-Fi network. That can include a Wi-Fi connection you have set up at home, or whatever Wi-Fi hotspot you happen to be on when you’re out and about, such as a cafe or library. In most ways, it’s like any other normal call, and you still use regular phone numbers.
Wi-Fi calling is especially useful when you’re in an area with weak carrier coverage. For example, when you’re traveling to the residential countryside, or you’re in a building with spotty reception. You may already be familiar with using Wi-Fi to send messages when SMS texting is unavailable (apps like Kik and Facebook Messenger provide these services) — and the same applies for when you’re trying to place a call. With Wi-Fi, you can call a friend up even if you’re in a dingy, underground bar (assuming you can connect to the bar’s Wi-Fi, that is.)
Built-in Wi-Fi calling has some advantages over third-party services like Skype.
In a way, yes. There are various services including Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger that provide what’s known under the umbrella term as “voice over Internet” to make calls with either a Wi-Fi or data connection.
Carrier-branded Wi-Fi calling is a bit different, however. It’s baked directly into the phone’s dialer, so you don’t need to fire up an app or connect to a service to use it. You can set it as your default way of placing a call, or if you lose phone signal, it will automatically switch to Wi-Fi calling. Read more…