For some time, overseas travel meant disconnecting from family and friends at home. Even direct dial calls from a hotel room were difficult, not to mention incredibly expensive. Now, technology and the ubiquitousness of the internet and Wi-Fi have reduced many barriers. In an old post, we looked at ways to make your phone usable in other countries, at a cost. Now, let’s take a look at how to make free calls home via Wi-Fi cell phone.
The technology behind Wi-Fi calling from your cell phone is straight forward. It utilizes a standard Wi-Fi connection to move your voice data packets instead of moving the same data over cellular networks. Today, many phones have this capability: all iPhones newer including the 5c and newer, Samsung Galaxy S5 and newer, and many LG and HTC phones. Not all cell carriers offer this service – a quick check of the participating carriers is important. In the US, it is only available on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, TMobile, Metro PCS, and Vodaphone. In all of Europe, only Orange offers it. Only Vodaphone and Everything, Everywhere offer it in the UK. Again, check your home carrier.
At home, the advantage is extending cell phone range into areas with spotty cell coverage. For the traveler, especially the international traveler, the advantage is in enabling your personal cell phone to behave as though it were at home. All you need, anywhere in the world, is a Wi-Fi signal. Connect to Wi-Fi, and dial your phone as though you were at home. Your contacts work the same, as does your voice mail. Caller ID shows your number when it rings, meaning your credit card and airline reservation lines recognize you automatically.
To use Wi-fi calling on an iPhone:
Open the Settings app, then tap Phone > Wi-Fi Calling
Slide the “Wi-Fi Calling on This iPhone” slider to On.
You’ll see a warning about location data and what your carrier collects.
Tap Enable to turn on Wi-Fi Calling.
To use Wi-fi calling on an Android phone:
Open the Settings app
Tap the “More” or “More Settings” button under Wireless & network.
Tap the “Wi-Fi Calling” option on this menu
Home Phone Apps
What if your phone isn’t enabled for Wi-Fi calling, or if you’re not on a carrier with the service? For US or Canada mobile phone account holders, there is possibly a free alternative. If your home phone is a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone, chances are you are just an app away from free calling. All Ooma, Vonage, or Time Warner Cable account holders have an iOS or Android app from the respective carriers (plus, a Windows Phone version from Vonage). Once you load the app, it functions exactly like your phone. Access your contacts and dial from there. Or, dial from the keypad as though you were at home.
How do you make a local call to a number at your overseas destination? Just remember that with WiFi calling or one of the home phone apps, your phone thinks it is at home. Any call to your current location will be an international call from your home location.
To install any of the apps (iOS or Android):
Download and install the appropriate app
Open the app and enter your mobile phone number
Enter your account credentials to activate your phone
To place a call:
From the keypad, dial the number (or use your Contacts or Recent tab)
If you want to make an international call (including an local call if outside your home country), dial 011 + country code
Hangouts Dialer and Skype
The final two options, Google Hangouts Dialer and Skype, are available to anyone, in most countries around the world, with caveats. First, let’s talk about Google Hangouts Dialer. It is an app for Android or iOS, as are the VoIP apps. It is available worldwide, with a few exceptions, such as India and Mexico. The technology uses either WiFi or data connections to place calls, free to US and Canada landlines and mobile phones, with low rates to other countries. Dialing is straightforward, and works the same as the VoIP apps with one big difference: the contacts are not the contacts in your phone’s contact list. They are the contacts in your Google contact list.
Skype is the least good choice. It has an app just like Google Hangouts Dialer, and works the same. The difference is, its calls are only free to call recipients that also have a Skype account. Calls to US phones are 2.3 cents/minute, as are most calls around the world.
The world is shrinking, and this is only one example. It’s comforting to know that technology has made it easier, and cheaper, to keep our links to home open.