AT&T and Sprint cellular networks joined T-Mobile in supporting free Wi-Fi calling with the latest beta version of the Apple iOS 9 operating system. Wireless carriers are excited about this because they will be able to offload voice and data users while at the same time providing a more consistent experience for their iPhone users. Wi-Fi users will be able to call, text and send data which will not count against limited voice minutes or data volumes.
Apple is also adding a very useful feature called “Wi-Fi Assist” in the new beta release. Previously, if an iPhone latched on to a weak hotspot, the user was required to manually turn off Wi-Fi network access in the general settings configurations to return to a stronger cellular signal. Wi-Fi Assist will now automatically switches a mobile users connection to a stronger 3G or 4G signal if an underperforming hotspot or home network is detected. This new feature should increase stability and improve performance for iPhone users overall.
Sprint has published a FAQ detailing its Sprint Wi-Fi calling details but AT&T has yet to provide anything similar. The iOS 9 beta period will run through the rest of the summer and a final version is expected for consumers this Fall.
We all know the difficulty of maintaining cell phone calls in rural areas sometimes in building basements. The cell towers that provide our network for making voice calls sometimes run out of coverage or the signal cannot penetrate the space we are in. There is a growing trend now to have secondary access available via Wi-Fi.
Lots of times when you run out of cell network there is Internet access nearby – either free hotspots or your own broadband connection. Google Fi, Republic Wireless and FreedomPop provide phones that run on other cellular networks but they try to find Wi-Fi networks to push calls over first. These companies not only provide service in non-cellular areas but they can often provide it at a lower price.
These are good solutions for people who are living in cellular dead zones, places where landline service is available but cell coverage is spotty or non-existent. There is no cellular network provider that allows them to use their cell phone from their home.
In addition, you are now no longer required to exclusively use a phone as your communication device. You can also use other Wi-Fi enabled tablets or PCs to make voice and video calls.
Because some cellular networks do not have upgraded bandwidth, wifi networks often provide faster throughput to support higher quality voice calls and video calls.
This blended Wi-Fi and cellular coverage seems to be an architecture that will help consumers lower their overall costs of communication. It will also enable new companies to enter the “voice and video calling” market, formally dominated by “phone companies”, as more and more incumbent networks are willing to wholesale access to maintain/grow revenue.
Skype for Web is a confusing name — it should be called Skype Plugins for Browsers, as it is a free calling application that runs on browsers (Safari, Chrome, IE, Firefox) where you may not be running the desktop standalone application or the mobile app. Many are anticipating that people will add Skype to their browser mostly for browser-based instant messaging. In fact, the Chromebook version is limited only to instant messaging – no video or audio calling yet.
The service is free and has been in controlled beta testing in the United States and the UK. In order to receive calls you will have to be logged in to the service. This is the next step towards what Microsoft and Google call web real-time communication APIs (WebRTC) that will enable browser to browser communicating.
There were two interesting developments this past week that should interest anyone wants to make free calls on Wi-Fi networks.
The first was a rumor that Microsoft is about to launch a worldwide Wi-Fi network that promises to provide service to mobile devices users and to seamlessly transition them between hotspots. Microsoft Wi-Fi is rumored to be platform-agnostic meaning any type of mobile device running any sort of operating system should be able to use the service. It is not clear if the service will be free or exactly how many hotspots will be available when it is introduced. The service is designed to serve mobile users with high bandwidth wireless access who may be outside cellular coverage.
This makes sense for Microsoft because of it’s Skype purchase and the fact that more advertising budgets are moving toward mobile devices and networks.
The second news item making headlines is a wifi hotspot provider in South Africa called AlwaysOn who will be launching free Wi-Fi calling services (free calls to AlwaysOn subscribers) to out-of-cellular-range users or users who want higher-speed service. The new service is designed to offload cellular networks onto Wi-Fi networks and provide always on users greater choice, also providing higher bandwidth where 3G cellular availability is scarce.
AlwaysOn provides another OTT (Over the Top) option, similar to WhatsApp and Skype, but also provides the fundamental network access.
Facebook announced this week the availability of free video calling using their messenger VoIP app in Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Laos, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, the UK, the US and Uruguay. They say they will be introducing the Into other countries soon. The following video explains how the app works.
During an earlier Q1 2015 earnings call this month, Facebook revealed that Messenger now makes up 10% of global mobile voice over IP calls – that is a lot of traffic. Facebook believes the higher-quality audio of VOIP calls over traditional cellular phone calls is what will drive further growth. Facebook is probably also counting on the fact that messenger can access your built-in Facebook contact list of friends.
Facebook has constructed their own video call in the structure and now is in a position to compete with other mobile calling apps that leverage wifi like Apple Facetime, Microsoft Skype and Google Hangouts. The app adapts well to the type of mobile phone you’re using and your available bandwidth, also allowing you to turn off video and conduct audio-only calls to save on bandwidth.
Facebook does not intend to merge Messenger services with their WhatsApp service as they feel it is important to keep segmented populations for video/audio calling versus SMS. The Messenger app runs on Apple IOS, Windows and Android mobile phones.
My college aged daughter recently traveled to Ecuador for three weeks and I think we talked more often to her than when she was at school. It was really easy and it was cheaper than if she’d stayed home.
There is no set rule for cheap international calling, it really depends on your location and the different cellular providers in the different types of cell standards.
My daughter has an iPhone and we determined before she left on her trip that iPhones, using AT&T cell services, don’t work very well. The international calling plan from AT&T sounded pretty expensive. There was also no way to add a local Sim card to her phone unless her iPhone was unlocked, which we didn’t think was a good idea.
What we ended up doing is simply using wifi-based e-mail and Skype when she was at her hostel home location or at her work location. She turned her cell and data services off before she got on the plane to Ecuador and just left the Wi-Fi service running. We ended up not paying a dime for voice and message services while my daughter was in Ecuador.
We did that by going on trip advisor in searching on the Quito travel forum. We didn’t even have to ask new questions we just searched on cell phones and you could look at all of the different conversations that had already taken place from people with similar situations.
What we learned, if we didn’t want to go the completely free route with Skype, is that my daughter could have purchased, or pre-purchased, a quad band GSM phone. Most people said that if you shopped efficiently you could find a phone for $30 to $50. Then we could have her chest a cheap prepaid Sim card from one of the local cellular services in Ecuador. A $20 sim card probably would have covered most of the calls she made.
I think we might have gone the cheap phone route if my daughter hadn’t had a traveling companion with a quad band GSM phone like the one described above. Relying on Wi-Fi and Skype means that you can’t necessarily call whenever you’d like.
Apple FaceTime is a software application that runs on Apple mobile devices (comes with iPhone 4 and newer, IPad 2 and newer, IPod touch 4th gen or newer) running Apple’s iOS and on Macs using a $.99 app that runs on OS X 10.6.6 or later. FaceTime lets users conduct free video calls over Wi-Fi networks. FaceTime will also work over cellular networks (requires cellular data capability) but depending on the cellular carrier you may be charged for those video calls.
How to Setup FaceTime on iOS
Step 1 – go to your settings page and tap FaceTime. Turn the FaceTime on/off toggle button to “on”.
Step 2- enter your Apple ID and password, then tap “next”.
Step 3 -select the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of the people you want to have FaceTime video calls with.
This week Facebook announced that that iPhone users can make free voice calls to other iPhone users by using the Facebook Messenger App and wifi.
The service was available in Canada and is now available for US users. There have been rumors for years that Facebook was going to get into the mobile phone business but common business sense says stick with software, don’t make hardware. Now, with the huge base of Facebook users, other VoIP companies like Vonage and Skype may get a little worried about their offerings.
The service is pretty simple to set up and use. Here is a quick video demonstrating it.