(Probably very stupid) question about modern phones

For a variety of reasons, I have so far stuck to the very basic species of cell phone - you know, the kind that is useful mainly for making phone calls, and in rare moments of excitement, sending a text or two. One of the reasons I’ve avoided looking into smart phones is because we get essentially no signal at our house. If I go outside in the driveway, I can get one bar on a good day. Hardly worth the plan I have now, let alone something like an expensive smartphone.

However, over the holidays, my various family members were comparing their various communication devices, and someone told me that you can have your smartphone do its calling over wi-fi. Now, this changes the picture, because if we had cell phones that worked at home, we could get rid of our land line at long last, and that changes the economic picture.

(TL;DR version starts here) So is this true? Are there modern phones for which a good wi-fi signal completely replaces the need for a cell signal? Can I do incoming and outgoing calls both over wi-fi? I mean, I know about VOIP - that’s what our landline uses - and I know mobile devices can connect to wi-fi. I just want to make sure I understand correctly before going in to the store and looking dumb.

T-Mobile offers free wi-fi calling - with a plan of course:

http://t-mobile-coverage.t-mobile.com/4g-wireless-broadband-service

AT&T:

http://www.att.com/esupport/article.jsp?sid=KB118004&cv=820#fbid=KYFXcIjZDWw

However, it appears you need an app for AT&T plan phones.

It doesn’t appear Verizon offers wi-fi calling, outside of this ehow article:

http://www.ehow.com/how_7346966_receive-calls-verizon-wifi.html

I think (and could be wrong) that T-Mobile is the only one that lets you make and receive calls using your cell phone number over wifi.

However, the major VOIP services like Skype and Google Voice all have mobile apps that let you make calls using your handset. A workaround is to get a cheap or free VOIP number and use that as your primary phone number, but set it up to forward to your cell phone number. Then when someone calls, if you’re in wi-fi range the app rings and if you’re not your phone rings.

Republic Wireless - super cheap - $19/month unlimited minutes, texts, data, no contract - the deal is that you use wifi networks wherever available.

There are VOIP services that you can get for about $15 per month and probably under $20/mo. after everything else like tax, etc is included - less if you go with a package deal from your ISP probably. So depending on what you’re paying now for your landline, it might be worth it to go that route instead and keep your existing cell phone service if you’re happy with that.

I know that I was getting hog tied and gang raped for my land line service. I had it stripped down to the point where my calling radius was something like a few blocks in any direction and it was still something like $30+ per month IIRC after you included the droopy pants, drive-by and low-rider surcharges. So in my case the decision was pretty much made for me.

The only thing to watch out for if you get a bolt on VOIP rather than something from your ISP is if you have a lot of traffic on your router. Then you might have look into something called QoS options in the router software - Quality of Service. But unless you download tons of stuff or have a gamer in the house, that probably won’t be an issue.

Keep in mind that if you get rid of your landline, you’ll have no phone when the power goes out.

Exactly. Not long ago we had a power outage that affected the whole county for about 36 hours. Landlines never stopped working, but there was no internet for two days, and no cell service from any carrier for over a week.

IIRC the official Google Voice app does not have the capability to make calls over WiFi. However, there is a good app called GrooVe IP that connects to your GV account and does make and receive GV calls over WiFi or 3G/4G.

Our current “landline” actually already is a VOIP line through our internet provider. Which means that, yes, when the power’s out, we have no phone service. We also have no cell phone service as I explained before.

As it happens, we also have no water, because we’re on a well with an electric pump. And we have no heat, because the boiler is controlled by an electric thermostat.

We discovered all of this a few years ago when the power went out for a day or so. Bad time to figure that all out.

Thanks for the replies. This is something I’ll have to think about.

I don’t know where you folks live who lose your cell phone service when the power goes out, but I’m in NJ and when Sandy hit, I had cell service for the duration of my power outage. True, cable, internet and VOIP were out, but my cell phone was working and I’m on the Sprint network. So if even they can manage to keep their network up and running, I’m sure the big boys like Verizon should be able to manage that too.

Yeah it does, or at least it does on my Droid. When I go to make a call it asks if I want to use my cell line or my Google Voice line.

The other option is to get a femtocell from your carrier. It acts like a cell tower that plugs into your home internet. Your phones can connect to it and make calls as if they were on the “real” mobile network, but the call travels over your home internet to the carrier. Some people are (rightly) annoyed with having to pay their carrier for the privilege of patching a hole in the carrier’s coverage, but it might be a more convenient option than your current landline/voip setup. You can always try negotiating with your carrier to wave the initial or monthly femtocell cost.

If the power goes out, then you walk to the end of your driveway to make a call. Because the power usually only goes out during nice weather, that won’t be much of a problem.

My Tmobile phone/plan offers “free”* and built-in wifi-calling, but I’ve heard that on some phone models, it’s not built-in and would require an additional service/charge from Tmobile.

  • “Free,” because even though you are using wifi, if you use Tmobile’s built-in wifi-calling, it still uses talk plan minutes, same as if you were using it through the cell-network. But if you have unlimited talk minutes, then it wouldn’t matter.

Yup. If you have sufficiently fast ISP service/wifi and/or 4g data, GV + GrooveIP can be a good solution. If your internet connection ain’t all that fast, voice quality can be pretty lousy.

Nope, even if you choose Google Voice, it’s still a non-VOIP call that is using your minute allowance.

http://support.google.com/voice/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1083068

The previously mentioned App “Groove IP” will make the calls over WiFi/3G/4G if you do not want to use minutes, but of course call quality will take a bit of a hit like with most VOIP.

Those sneaky bastards!

Yeah, it’s not obvious.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Google wanted to support VOIP, but the providers balked at it. Grand Central, which Google bought and turned into Google Voice, supported SIP, which is an open VOIP standard. In other words, you could get a 3rd party SIP client (of which there are several in the Android market last I checked) and connect to your Grand Central account for VOIP calling. But they shut that off.

On the other hand, it appears that Google Voice uses Jabber, which is another open standard, which is what GrooVe IP uses. GrooVe IP costs 5 bucks, but there’s a free version you can try: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.snrblabs.grooveip&feature=nav_result The first version I tried had a wicked echo, but the later versions took care of it.

My T-Mobile At Home plan is an add on to my family plan. A router that I plug a home phone in to. Router is also a wifi. It takes up one of the lines available, but ALL it’s minutes are free. It doesn’t count against ANY of my plans limits. Broadband required, but I’m on broadband anyways.

It may not be an option for new accounts, tho. I signed on several years ago.

T-Mobiles family plans are currently higher than other carriers I’ve looked at, and their customer service sucks.* So, when it’s time to upgrade our phones, I’ll be looking for something better. That Republic thing looks very interesting.

*ymmv