How To Use Wi-Fi To Eliminate Cellular Dead Spots

Wi-Fi calling on mobile phones is finally becoming a reality, bringing us one step closer to eliminating the problem of mobile deadspots. This is welcome news to IT Managers (like me) who deal with poor cellular coverage inside buildings, and who support employees using cell phones to conduct business while on-the-go.

Apple has supported Wi-Fi calling since its release of iOS 8, but the all-important carrier piece wasn’t available until recently. 

T-MobileAT&TSprint, and Verizon have all rolled out long-awaited support for Wi-Fi calling on their networks. Verizon was the final hold out, but finally included support with the release of iOS 9.3. Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile also support Wi-Fi calling on many Samsung phones as well. However, as of March 2016, AT&T’s site only listed support for iPhone (6s, 6s Plus, 6, 6 Plus) and stipulates that iOS 9.3 must be installed.

This means that all of the major carriers in the US finally support Wi-Fi calling on most of the popular devices available.

Also, AT&T subscribers outside of the US with an iPhone 6 or higher can now make and receive calls via Wi-Fi as well.

Benefits of Wi-Fi calling

Among the benefits to Wi-Fi calling? In addition to the promise of saving on cell-minutes and international charges, mobile-phone users no longer have to walk outside to make calls when located inside buildings with poor reception.

In the past, stop-gap solutions to the problem of poor indoor cell reception, such as Microcells, have helped, but they have also fallen short of being viable. The MicroCell is a mini cellular tower that re-broadcasts a cellular signal inside of your building.

In my experience, Microcells are subpar. At one point, I was managing three of them. Each one could only have a list of ten numbers that could access it. It required the employee to be on the right carrier (AT&T in our case). We frequently had to reboot phones and/or the MicroCell to make it work. We also had issues where there would be a call drop if you left the MicroCell and roamed onto an actual LTE/4G network.

What about Wi-Fi impact? There are a few things to keep in mind.

  • According to the fine print, Wi-Fi calling uses minimal resources on your WLAN but of course all deployments are unique so you will be the best judge.
  • If employees are needing to walk/talk at the same time, you’ll want to be aware of that when designing your network.
  • If your users take mission critical calls on their cell phones, you’ll need to make sure they can maintain a constant connection in stairwells, hallways, etc. Wi-Fi calling is essentially acting as a VoIP client.

It’s exciting to see a frequently used technology finally begin taking advantage of robust Wi-Fi networks to eliminate cellular dead spots. Although Wi-Fi calling should have minimal day-to-day impact on your Wi-Fi network, it will provide a lot of value to your end users if you have poor cellular coverage inside your building.

As an end user, I love Wi-Fi calling. As a Wi-Fi administrator, I’m also thrilled that I’m finding a new useful way to maximize the value out of my Wi-Fi network.

Bradley Chambers has been the Director of Information Technology at Brainerd Baptist School since 2009. At BBS, he manages a network of Apple and Chrome OS devices. He also writes at Tools & Toys. The Sweet Setup, and 9to5Mac.

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