Wi-Fi calling should be a standard Android feature

Wi-Fi calling on an Android phone
Wi-Fi calling on an Android phone (Image credit: Android Central)

I did not expect to still be using the Google Pixel 3a (opens in new tab). I thought I would transfer back to the Galaxy S10 when the 3a got added to the Android Q Beta in June, but here I am, still using a Beta phone as my daily driver. If I'm being perfectly honest, I'd like to go back to the S10. The bigger screen was nice for videos and games, and Wizards Unite doesn't yet work on Android Q.

But I'm not going back because of two simple facts: cell coverage at my apartment sucks, and the unlocked Google Pixel 3a supports AT&T Wi-Fi calling, which makes it a GD unicorn for me — and potentially for my whole family.

Wi-Fi calling is something that many users take for granted on their phones, especially if they have T-Mobile, which allows Wi-Fi calling on all of the phones they sell and many unlocked phones, too. Sprint and Verizon allow Wi-Fi calling on most phones, though the latter has feature hoops you have to jump through to be eligible for it. Then we have AT&T, who only allows Wi-Fi calling on 48 devices (opens in new tab) — that you have to buy directly from AT&T.

Unlocked? No Wi-Fi calling for you

See this beautiful $900 phone? Yeah, Wi-Fi calling doesn't work on it because I bought it unlocked.

Bought an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S10? Even though the hardware is exactly the same, you won't be able to get Wi-Fi calling unless you go to the trouble of flashing the AT&T-specific build of the software (you probably shouldn't do that). I have used five unlocked cell phones in the last three years, including the S9+ and S10, and AT&T Wi-Fi calling has been blocked on all of them except the Pixel 3a.

Wi-Fi calling right now requires specialized software on most carriers, and five years ago, I would've accepted that excuse, cursed the technology gods for keeping this feature from me, and moved on with my life. Today, I look at Wi-Fi calling the same way we looked at Wi-Fi Hotspot and Tethering features: it's something that can and should be part of the basic Android operating system rather than needing users to jump through hoops rooting their phones — or paying overinflated costs for carrier-locked devices.

Wi-Fi Calling solved?

This sounds like a crazy idea, but only until we look across the aisle to our fruity neighbors. From the iPhone 5c and up, Wi-Fi calling is supported on most major carriers in the US and Canada (opens in new tab), as well as carriers around the world. Wi-Fi calling settings are localized to one place on iPhones, as opposed to being shoved in one of five different places depending on your carrier and manufacturer.

Standardizing Wi-Fi calling and making it available to more devices isn't a frivolous request; it's a public safety feature. If you live in a house with a metal roof, think walls, or just straight up live in a dead spot, Wi-Fi calling is the only way to reliably call someone. My current apartment has shoddy signal in the living room and bedroom, and I can't get signal at all in the bathroom, which is the room I'd be hiding in during a tornado or a home invasion. Without Wi-Fi calling, I would have no reliable way to make calls during an emergency, which is why the Pixel 3a is my daily driver for the foreseeable future.

Wi-Fi calling gives me peace of mind in a dead zone apartment.

My twin's new apartment has spotty reception, too, and after telling her Wi-Fi calling is working on the Pixel 3a, she's looking to buy one (opens in new tab) the next time it goes on sale. The AT&T Microcell at my parents' house has stopped working, and since those have been discontinued in favor of Wi-Fi calling, my parents might be forced to buy new phones just to keep getting calls in their own home. Or switch carriers, an idea which is gaining steam in their household.

It's dead, Jim.

Shifting the onus of support from individual models to carriers working with Google on the core Android system could help dramatically expand access to Wi-Fi calling, especially for the great and growing number of users who are buying unlocked phones that can follow them from carrier to carrier. It would be a challenge, but I'm more than confident that Google could work with carriers to pull this off.

After all, if Apple can do it, how hard can it be?

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • True but wifi calling is wonky anyway and doesn't always work well.
  • On my S8 it's a nightmare (on AT&T) so I've turned it off. It is nice to have in an emergency, though.
  • Sucks for you. I have an unlocked S10e, using it on Verizon prepaid. Wi-Fi calling works just fine and so does HD calling between other VZW and AT&T subscribers.
  • My wife and I are both on AT&T prepaid
    and only my Pixel 3XL has the option to use the wifi calling. Her Pixel 2XL does not have the option in settings menu
  • Yep, Google added it starting with the Pixel 3 and 3XL.
  • Google didn't add it. AT&T stopped blocking it. This is why if you spoof the IMEI of your Pixel 2 to something AT&T approves WiFi calling will briefly work until they detect it and shut it down. If you don't understand a subject matter you shouldn't write an article on it.
  • That escalated quickly.
  • My pixel 2xl had WiFi calling on at&t
  • This has nothing to do with Google and Android and everything to do with carriers. Android supports WiFi calling for all major carriers on an OS level. The issue is outside of T-Mobile carriers often block it. AT&T restricts WiFi calling on an IMEI level (basically only the phones they sell with exceptions for iPhone's as to not piss off Apple). They have only recently softened this stance with the Pixel 3 and 3a to match how they treat iPhone's. Verizon only lets phone that were submitted through their certification process use WiFi calling even though again the phone is capable of using it without. So maybe do some research next time before writing an article full of factual inaccuracies?
  • A US-problem mainly...
  • Yeah, I am on Verizon using an Unlocked S10+. Wifi calling works perfectly fine. That seems like it's an AT&T issue.
  • Yeah, but she likely wrote the entire article blaming Google before she did a simple web search to learn that this is an AT&T issue and not an Android/Google one.
  • Writing and publishing an article before doing research? On Android Central? Nooooo, never! /S
  • Android Central used to be great. Sometimes I forget it isn't anymore.
  • She's not blaming Google. She's suggesting that Google could fix this. Stop living life with anger in your heart bro. It's not good for you.
  • Don't be a sensitive Susan, I read zero "anger" in his/her comment...
  • Verizon doesn't always let it happen though. We had to wait forever to get them to allow our BlackBerry Z30 to work on it. Not an android I know but Verizon can be bad too. If they did it to that phone what other will they do it to? I know some unlocked phones that do work on Verizon, DON'T work with wifi calling. Androids no less. The carriers are just trying to make sure you buy phones from them
  • Thought it was standard already. Can't remember the last phone I used without WiFi calling
  • It is already built into the OS. The writer of this article has beef with AT&T's policies of blocking WiFi calling on unlocked Android devices but didn't want to take the time to research that the problem was with them and not Google before publishing her article.
  • A lot of unlocked phones support it on T-mobile. Pixel phones, Oneplus phones and quite a few others actually. It is annoying to find out if it is supported since reviewers either aren't allowed to talk about it or never bother to mention it so you have to go to forums to find the answers. (LED notification lights are another feature reviewers never bother to mention but are desired by many people. That is another issue, though.)
  • Your issue is with Att. T-Mobile supports wifi calling on many unlocked phones. My Samsung Galaxy 10e, Oneplus 6t, Moto Z2 Play, Nokia 6.1 and my wife's IPhone Se all work with Wifi calling on T-Mobile. All our phones are official unlocked phones.
  • From the T-Mobile website: "Some manufacturers state their devices have T-Mobile Wi-Fi Calling. Most of these devices work without any problems, but T-Mobile cannot guarantee their service unless you bought the device from us." So yes, Wi-Fi calling on unlocked phones with T-Mobile is easier than most networks, but it still depends on your manufacturer going through the steps to get it working, and if anything goes wrong with it, you're SOL unless you bought the phone from T-Mobile.
  • T-Mobile is just covering their a#$ with that warning-no different than the drug companies listing side affects on tv commercials. It's carrier dependent. Your article falsely pretends that WiFi calling is somewhat of a luxury for unlocked users. It really isn't if you have a certain carrier. Your article should be more about Att's lack of support, and actually if you were a real phone guru you would have known that before even getting your phone. It has been well known that Att is the worse when it comes to unlocked phones and compatibility with their network, especially regarding WiFi calling and Volte. it's been like that for years and no secret.
  • I can confirm that I've had multiple unlocked Pixels on T-Mobile that work flawlessness with wifi calling.
  • AT&T is the worst when it comes to wifi calling, but also VoLTE. Having my data become unusable while on a phone call on my unlocked S8 was enough to make me switch away. This is all because of the CSC file (at least on Samsung phones) which basically informs the phone which features should be on or off per certain carriers. It is literally only due to AT&T demanding that Samsung turn VoLTE and wifi calling off in that file on non AT&T phones that is doesn't work.
  • So, uh...a lot of tornados in Florida? I think you mean hurricanes (or typhoons).
  • Florida doesn't get as many tornado warnings as my home state of Texas, but they do happen. We had a tornado warning at my apartment (and covering Walt Disney World) in the last couple of weeks.
  • Not only is it just wifi calling with AT&T, but any of the advanced LTE services are not available on unlocked devices (like my Galaxy s9+). So I don't get the HD voice calling, and I don't get the Numbersync. When I got my galaxy watch with LTE, I tried to activate everything on AT&T. And then found out that nubmersync wouldn't work, which is ridiculous. So i cancelled the service for my watch - A Loss for AT&T since they won't enabled features that other carriers will enable. I'll probably switch over to t-mobile at some point, which should be able to activate everything.
  • All of the US carriers operate on a whitelist model for wifi calling. They whitelist their own phones, and unlocked iPhones, but unlocked Android phones are very hit or miss. I chalk this up to Apple having more leverage with encouraging the carriers to whitelist their phones. T-Mobile whitelists the most unlocked Android phones, but usually this is limited to US/North America versions. Pretty much any US/NA unlocked Samsung, LG, Pixel, OnePlus, Motorola and Nokia phone will work on T-Mobile wifi calling. But the US/NA unlocked Asus & Sony models generally aren't on the list. Sprint doesn't have much of a whitelist, but you can get wifi calling on the unlocked Samsung S8 on up using Nova Launcher or others to create custom shortcuts to hidden wifi calling settings which will let you turn it on. I believe the unlocked Essential PH-1 might be whitelisted normally since it was also sold by Sprint. Not sure about others. Verizon until recently only whitelisted unlocked Pixels but no other Android phones. The Samsung S10 series is also whitelisted. AT&T only whitelists the Pixel 3 & 3a.
  • My Unlocked Galaxy Note 9 that I purchased direct from Samsung has Wi-Fi Calling that works great on Sprint out of the box. No launcher change required.
  • Ok, good to know. I'm not super familiar with Sprint and there's not good documentation out there (at least that I could find) of which unlocked phones work on Sprint wifi calling.
  • 2xl also has hd calling and WiFi calling on at&t
  • I just don't waste my time with unlocked phones. This is the US after all and carriers still have all the power. Plus, it's not like I'm going to be changing carriers anytime soon and Samsung treats their unlocked phones like red headed stepchildren anyway. So I can have an unlocked Samsung phone just for the heck of it and get slower updates and locked out of features or I can just buy the carrier version which has nothing but upside. This is especially true of Verizon phones which are unlocked anyway, used to be immediately, but even after 60 days isn't bad. There's just no reason to buy an unlocked Samsung phone over the Verizon version in the US. What's AT&Ts unlock policy? You might be better off getting their version of the phone too.
  • Unlocked Pixels on T-Mobile is a great combination.
  • I definitely think I would switch carriers. Putting up with poor calling is unacceptable. Give At&t the boot.
  • For Android central I am amazed. Google voice supports VoIP over data which means you can use voice over WiFi or data no probs. I use this when I travel internationally and save a ton. And to boot I don't have to worry about my cell number and I can switch carriers at a snap. My dual SIM phone (another rarity in the us) switches between tmo in North America and Google fi for international.
  • THANK YOU for highlighting this! Some of us, for a variety of reasons, don't have the option to switch carriers. So, for AT&T + Android, you're stuck with a carrier-branded Samsung, an LG or two, and (only now) the latest Pixel. As someone said above, too, it isn't just wifi calling but also HD Voice, VoLTE, etc. If your IMEI isn't recognized, it will eventually jack up all of your services. This keeps us from being able to fully utilize a lot of great phones that support the capabilities at a technical level. So, instead of being able to snap up a new flagship from Oneplus for a family member, I end out having to pick up a last-gen Samsung for around the same price. This should be fixed by now.
  • I'm in the US with VZW (grandfathered unltd data), I use Google Voice. what's wifi calling?
  • This may or may not be a related question. If not, sorry! We have a new unlocked LG G8 in the family, and we're on AT&T. It doesn't seem to support RCS. Is there a way to enable that? Or is it the same deal as Wi-Fi calling?
  • AT&T would need to start supporting RCS or you'll have to wait for Google's rollout bypassing the carrier. Switch to Sprint or Fi and you'll get RCS with your phone. It's another thing that AT&T is awful at and the author clearly doesn't understand.
  • Thanks. I kinda suspected that. Switching will be tough--there's nine lines on our plan and that kind of inertia is hard to overcome! I think we'll just suffer.
  • I may be leaving AT&T over this very issue. My wife has a Pixel 2 and reception is horrible in the house. AT&T refuses to enable Wifi calling.
  • I've been using unlocked Pixels on T-Mobile for a year after switching, and everything for me has been flawless, I got reception in the heart of a battleship once lol (USS Wisconsin in case anyone's curious).
  • Works perfect on EE here in UK.
  • I have the ATT version of the Samsung S10+ and the wifi calling is very wonky. I turn it off in most cases as it doesnt seem to help. Had no idea that the unlocked version dowsnt support it though. Very interesting.
  • This is exactly why I left AT&T about a year ago. I bought S9s for my wife and I directly from Samsung and opted for the unlocked/unbranded versions. We were paying fully for the phones, so why get something locked or branded. After many hoops, I found out about the WiFi calling restriction. And its not just WiFi calling. It is also other things like Visual Voicemail which you can't get from AT&T unless you use their branded phone with their custom ROM. That was the last straw for me. I switched to T-Mobile. Within a minute of inserting the T-Mobile SIM, I received an OTA update which enabled WiFi calling.
  • Not true about visual voicemail. I have an unlocked phone on ATT and my VVM works fine
  • My VVM works fine on my S10 and my old S8. On the S8, I had to use the AT&T app (which is crap). On the S10 it is handled natively.
  • Just one more reason I will never use anything with AT&T on it. They are run by crooks and there isn't enough time to explain why I feel this way.
  • I think T-Mobile does it best at the moment.
  • This is an AT&T being their usual dirtbag self problem, not a phone problem. Switch to a carrier that doesn't SUCK.
  • T-Mobile for the win
  • I didn't get VoWiFi or VoLTE on ATT, but both showed up on my unlocked OnePlus 5 as soon as I switched to T-mobile . Fast forward a few months, and my unlocked OnePlus 7 Pro works flawlessly with WiFi calling. Have not had a single issue with it.
  • I bought my Galaxy S9 not realizing it wouldn't support VOLTE or WiFi calling on AT&T. So I started looking for a new carrier. Got a deal on Sprint service (their Kickstart plan). With Sprint, WiFi calling just works (you just enable an option in settings). There's also a hack to get VOLTE if you want, but I make almost all of my calls at home or at work anyway (when I'm on wifi) so I don't care too much. I'm getting Unlimited everything, and paying less than half of what I paid for my 2gb/month plan on AT&T. Besides Sprint, T-Mobile or Metro are good options too, I hear.
  • I couldn't be happier on T-Mobile, I got my family to switch about a year ago and it might be the best decision I've made so far, (I haven't made a lot, I'm young). My family is military, so T-Mobile's 50% off (for us unlimited data on 5 lines) is extremely enticing.
  • I only went unlocked because AT&T didn't carry the phones I wanted. I don't regret it though because Wi-Fi calling is the only feature that doesn't work. VoLTE works and adds to the best voice call quality I've ever had, and I can be the Hotspot, and the conference call speakerphone, and use mobile data, all at the same time. I once took my U12 to the AT&T store to ask about Wi-Fi calling, just to see what they would say, and the guy acted like it had nothing to do with them and was only the phone's fault, lol.
  • This is why I made Google Voice my primary number. I have AT&T prepaid and they don't allow Wi-Fi calling on any of the unlocked phones that I've owned, including my current LG V30S. Wi-Fi calling has been available using hangouts, which is soon to be discontinued, and has been replaced by the Google Voice app. I've been using this feature for few years now. I also have much better spam controls over my carrier issued number.
  • My carrier doesn't support WiFi Calling...even though my device has it...so on this one, it's not Google"s fault...
  • I'm still trying to understand the comment about "fruity neighbors"...
  • I haven't seen the particular comment yet, but probably homophobia.
  • What could he have possibly meant?
    Apple maybe...
    Being gay is being common.
    Stop the martyr stuff.
    It's mainstream.
  • You might try reading the article: 6th paragraph:
    "This sounds like a crazy idea, but only until we look across the aisle to our fruity neighbors. From the iPhone 5c and up, Wi-Fi calling is supported on most major carriers in the US and Canada, as well as carriers around the world. Wi-Fi calling settings are localized to one place on iPhones, as opposed to being shoved in one of five different places depending on your carrier and manufacturer." Obviouly the reference is to Apple, i.e. "fruity neighbor"
  • You're right about taking it for granted, I've been using unlocked Google Pixels on T-Mobile for a year after convincing my family to switch (everyone seems to be happy with my choice).
  • This here is why T-Mobile is my favorite Network and unlocked Pixels are my favorite phones.
  • My experience with WiFi calling is that my battery drops twice as fast in standby. AFAIK WiFi calling needs constant, secure connection to the operator and phone can't go to deep sleep because of it.
  • Totally agree, this should be part of Google Play Services and available for all Android devices above a certain OS version.
  • Using a Pixel 3a XL on Verizon towers [Red Pocket] and Wi-Fi calling works great. Wife is using a Sprint Moto Z2 Force on ATT towers [Red Pocket] with Wi-Fi calling listed but doesn't work and won't activate.
    Thanks for the article.
    It is annoying that obstacles are put in place to discourage uniform standards for the betterment of regular peeps. The bigger problem: IMO, Gov regs need to address this and demand a standard Wi-Fi calling protocol.
    We have enough of this Tower of Babel nonsense in Government. Phone tech has advanced to commodity status and will converge on it's own given time. Why not now?
  • All of the US carriers are terrible in one way or another, but AT&T is by far the worst. T-Mobile btw does similar things with foreign made Samsung phones including removing VoLTE despite them having all the right bands in place. I wanted a Dual Sim variant of the Note 9. It wouldn't work on VoLTE. T-Mobile's best answer for this is using their Digits app. It's extremely frustrating.
  • @Ara, why did you write, "...you won't be able to get Wi-Fi calling unless you go to the trouble of flashing the AT&T-specific build of the software (you probably shouldn't do that)." That's a bold statement, when failing to outline the risks that you perceive.
    If it's so dangerous, why would Samsung so readily provide the firmware and the program with which to flash?
  • I know this is old but Samsung dose not "So willingly" provide the firmware images and flashing software. It's not like you can go to their site and find a page to download any firmware you want and a tool to flash it with. I've flashed my S10+ I bought from AT&T back and forth between the AT&T firmware and the US unlocked firmware. I didn't get anything directly from Samsung. Had to find it all on XDA forums, and use tools that I'm almost positive were not made by Samsung. It's actually quite easy though if you just follow the directions. Takes about 30 mins to change firmwares.
  • I have AT&T (granfathered in since forever) and on both my 2XL and 3XL I can get WiFi Calling (Both purchased from Google)
  • How did you get it? I've been a customer for many years also.
  • Has anybody been able to get Wi-Fi calling working on a OnePlus 6t unlocked on VZW? thx
  • To add to the AT&T rant, they do not allow WiFi Calling nor VoLTE on non-AT&T phones. They also block these services on AT&T prepaid lines. T-Mobile, on the other hand, does allow these services but does not allow carrier aggregation (LTE+, 4G+) on non-T-Mobile devices.
  • As far as i know it should work if I ever went back to a smartphone plan on my note5 W8 as their pretty lax about csc changes(something that samsung did to even keep cfg-like wim files for their wp8 line) but Ive never used it because not only it was/is a postpaid feature u also had to have an addon for it that also covered video calling at the time
  • No carrier is perfect but AT&T just sucks all the way around.
  • Why promote the Pixel when you have the option of 48 other devices? Any one one of those could also get a better signal.
  • Well I found a cool little workaround for Wi-Fi calling on my AT&T-blocked HTC U12+.
    I got a free Google Voice number, installed the app, went to settings -> calls -> making and receiving calls, and selected "Prefer Wi-Fi and Mobile data". Just made a call from the basement of a 6 story aluminum paneled building with no cell coverage :)
  • I have to agree. I really wanted to buy a Sony XZ2 Compact last year. Mostly because I carry two phones (one for work) and was tired of having two massive phones all the time. But the Sony phone didn't have any wifi calling or VoLTE! Crazy! So I had to look elsewhere. Been using a Pixel 3 for the last 6 months. Very happy with it.
  • I would not recommend T Mobile due to poor customer service. Number porting issues and not having all of my services that I paid for on my account. I just joined on July 8. The only good thing is that WIFI calling works on my moto x4
  • « After all, if Apple can do it, how hard can it be?« 
    Very hard it seems ;) And you are still lucky ! I live in a country where no carrier has wifi calling!!