Is WiFi Calling All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

WiFi Calling

All eyes were on Google last week as it rolled out Pixel and Pixel XL, two new in-house devices launched in partnership with Verizon. And as CNET reports, we now have word that the Pixel can also be used with Google’s Project Fi—which begs the question: Is WiFi calling actually worth it?

At first glance, the answer appears to be yes; but closer inspection reveals some potential pitfalls.

Programs like Project Fi work in concert with major carriers. The idea (and marketing push)  is to offer cheaper wireless service by toggling calls between WiFi and cellular coverage from big-player networks. In other words, automatically connecting to WiFi hotspots could possibly translate to lower service costs. Project Fi is already in action, with Comcast slated to launch its own program next year.

In theory, it sounds like a good idea, but there are definitely a few caveats. For starters, the pricing model bundles in talk and text together, which is problematic for a number of reasons. Today’s mobile users are pivoting more and more from voice to text. According to a 2015 report from Informate, Americans send and receive five times as many daily texts as phone calls.

One Glove Does Not Fit All (and Neither Does WiFi Calling)

This is precisely why US Mobile customers can create their own customized plans—no two users are alike; some only need 100 minutes of talk, while others need 5,000. The point here is that taking a one-size-fits-all approach to mobile usage often translates to customers paying for more than they need.

With Project Fi, for instance, talk and text are a hand-in-hand deal. The starting point for their monthly plans is $20, which gets you unlimited calls and texting. This means that opting out of unlimited talk isn’t an option. That isn’t unlike a cable company bundling cable and Internet along with home phone service, even though most Americans have no need for a landline phone.

Data usage is another likely downside. Project Fi charges users $10 for every gigabyte of data they use. The truth is that most users will blow through one gigabyte relatively quickly. Forbes writer Shelby Carpenter calls it Project Fi’s Achilles heel, adding that unlimited talk and text plus 4GB of data will run you $60 per month. Other programs offer slightly cheaper prices, but nothing too substantial.

Data aside, what we really want to get into here is voice quality, which can be questionable when your calls are offset from cellular to WiFi. Some who have tried it say that call quality can be choppy or distorted. Others have reported issues with lag time when making WiFi calls. What’s more, if you’re talking on the go, call quality may become compromised if you go out of range of the WiFi network.

The kinks of WiFi calling show no signs of being ironed out anytime soon, which means that US Mobile will continue offering affordable prepaid plans. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


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