South Africans know the pain of dropped calls and missing text messages all too well. You might be walking into a shopping centre while making plans for the weekend with your friend over the phone when the call suddenly drops. Perhaps you’re waiting for an OTP from your bank to make a transfer but thanks to terrible signal, that SMS never comes.
Thankfully, there is a new service launching today from Cell C that promises to make these instances a thing of the past. Say hello to Wi-Fi Calling.
The service uses Wifi hotspots that your Wi-Fi Calling-enabled smartphone is connected to and bridges any gaps in your cellular service that may occur during a call. Wi-Fi Calling effectively turns a Wifi hotspot into what could be referred to as a temporary Cell C base station.
The service is different from applications like Whatsapp, which has allowed calls over Wifi since earlier this year or voice over IP services like Skype, in that Wi-Fi Calling does not require a third party application to be downloaded. Wi-Fi Calling is built into the phone itself and takes no more effort from you than using your phone to make calls as you normally would.
The benefits of this extend beyond our borders as the service allows calls to take place over any Wifi connection at your current tariff rates, which means that if you’re connected to a Wifi hotspot in London for instance, you’ll pay for your calls exactly what you would pay in South Africa.
For those that spend a lot of time indoors and suffer from a lack of signal but have access to a Wifi connection, the service will make making and receiving calls a whole lot easier.
Setting up your Wi-Fi Calling-enabled smartphone for Wifi Calling
Before we begin, we need to activate Wi-Fi Calling on the ZTE Blade V6 that Cell C provided htxt.africa with which to test the service.
You are able to choose from three options; Wi-Fi Calling Priority will execute a call over Wifi, and should this connection drop the mobile network will take over.
Mobile Network Priority will use the mobile network first, and should this falter the Wifi connection will take over the call.
The final option is to never use the mobile network which will always make calls over Wifi and never attempt to connect to the mobile network.
We felt that even though we used all three options there was very little difference in the first two options unless you don’t want to incur an additional data charge that is incurred when you place a call over the Wifi connection. This charge amounts to as little as 1MB when making voice calls, according to Cell C.
On to the testing then; we tried out the service on two Wifi connections with vastly different speeds to check whether the speed of the Wifi connection has any bearing on the quality of service.
Cell C Wi-Fi Calling using a Wifi connection on Telkom LTE – 55Mbps
When dialling, the “call” button on the interface changes to reflect that the call will be completed using Wi-Fi Calling.
When making a call there is nothing to let you know that a call is switching between Wifi and the mobile connection, making the entire process seamless and well-executed. When you leave the Wifi range, however, you do hear a beep to let you know that the Wifi connection is no longer being used. Using only the Wifi connection to make calls will result in the call being dropped when you exit the Wifi router’s effective range.
We did experience a very slight delay between the call dialling and the contact’s phone ringing, but this may just be us nitpicking because a similar delay is experienced when completing calls on the cellular network, albeit slightly shorter.
Cell C Wi-Fi Calling using a Wifi connection on WiruLink – 2Mbps
We tested the service in the Cradle of Humankind which, from previous experience, has terrible cellular reception. The WiruLink service is a wireless broadband connection that exhibits latency and speeds comparable to an ADSL connection.
After making a few calls we found that the service was performing well. During one call we did experience a brief “hello, can you hear me” moment but it was unclear whether this was a result of the contact’s cellular connection or ours. This one moment from three calls which never dropped or cut out, is far better than the usual inability to make calls at all.
It appears that after testing the service on two connections with varying speeds, there was no loss of quality or even a delay, which we have experienced using Whatsapp’s Wifi calling feature.
Before you get too excited, though, you must know that Wi-Fi Calling is not free as the service will still deduct airtime or bill your contract according to your tariff plan. The data charge for us was very minimal at 1.69MB for two calls which comes in at around 845kb per call, in line with the 1MB estimation given by Cell C.
There is also a charge to have the service activated on your account, and this comes in at R199 per month. This gives you unlimited text messages, unlimited calls to Cell C numbers and 500 free minutes when calling other networks. The price is quite steep considering you are paying for one function on your phone to be activated, and we hope to see it come down as more people adopt the service.
Despite the price we feel that the improvement in signal and call quality is worth the cost. We would highly recommend the Wi-Fi Calling service to anybody that constantly suffers from poor call quality, travellers looking to save costs when roaming and those that just want to make a call without it being cut shor…