Nokia Lumia 521: T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling demoed on the latest low-cost Windows Phone
We’ve seen Wi-Fi calling in the past from carriers and it usually involves having a separate router-like device that you need to “rent” from your operator. The problem with that system, besides the extra cost, is it’s not mobile so it only works at home (as opposed to a friend’s house or your local Starbucks).
T-Mobile has a new Wi-Fi calling initiative and the low-cost Nokia Lumia 521 is the first Windows Phone to have the feature (the T-Mobile Lumia 925 will have it too at launch, and perhaps the Lumia 810 may get it with its Amber update later this summer).
So how is it? It’s actually one of the coolest things we’ve used that has improved mobile connectivity. Sure, it making calls this way still counts towards your minutes, but it goes a long way in improving reception in certain cellular dead-zones.
By allowing you to make/receive phone calls and send text messages all over your existing data connection, T-Mobile has really upped the ante for competition. Since the service is on-board the phone, it also means wherever you have a Wi-Fi connection, you can make a call—home, your parent’s place, a hotel, Starbucks—it doesn’t matter.
Call quality is fantastic and the connection has no discernable delay. Over the weekend, we used the phone at a location with literally zero bars on T-Mobile resulting in a “no signal” status on the Phone tile. By utilizing the Wi-Fi calling feature, we all of a sudden had a fully functional cell phone again.
Users have three options, including Wi-Fi Preferred (makes calls over Wi-Fi, falls back to cellular), Cellular Preferred (makes calls over cellular, falls back to Wi-Fi) and the most interesting: Wi-Fi only. That last option means the device will only connect via Wi-Fi for phone calls and never via cellular.
We’re very excited about using this feature on our Lumia 521 and we’re even more thrilled with it coming to T-Mobile’s Lumia 925 later this summer. It’s a game changer for us in how we use our phone as it costs $0 to use or add to your plan (though you may need T-Mobile to configure your SIM).
Unfortunately, this feature is 100% dependent on carriers, meaning no, this won’t roll out to other Lumias and it is not a Nokia feature per se. In other words, free Wi-Fi calling may be a new area for carrier competition and something to consider for your next purchase.
You can read more about T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling here (opens in new tab) and make sure you watch our demo video of the service in action above. To enable Wi-Fi calling, users must have the latest firmware on their Lumia 521 and must do a hard-reset to install the necessary software.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.
There is no additional monthly charge to use the Wi-Fi Calling feature on your handset. Wi-Fi Calling uses monthly plan minutes for the following: Calls made from the US to international numbers (subject to international rates) Calls made from outside the US to US numbers (not charged roaming) Calls made from outside the US to international numbers (subject to international rates, but not charged roaming)
Note: You must disable Data Roaming when traveling internationally to avoid incurring data roaming charges. this would suggest that it does not use your plan minutes for US to US calling. by the way, I am not with T mo , so I don't have any personal experience.
When you used this feature in Canada and China, were you using the Tmobile SIM card or a card from a local service provider ?
after speaking to the t mobile rep the wifi calling is most advantageous when calling back to the states when travelling abroad and not so good for what would be local calling in a foreign land.
Google Voice has the cheapest international calling I know of, so you could actually call a Canadian number from within Canada using a google voice call using Wi-Fi calling and then it would still be cheap. Hmm, scratch that, calls to Canada are free using google voice (note: google voice is NOT voip). Either way, the same methods you may use to make cheap calls to other countries from within the US, also apply when outside the US.
Of course, Skype also has a feature that gives you a local number for the country you're in, so you can make cheap calls... but that's completely off the topic of Wi-Fi calling now. Because you'd be making those local calls using a local sim OR a local payphone. That and I don't know if it's cheaper than google voice.
I was planning on getting a data only canada Sim ( similicious) using my 4g mobile hotspot and two WiFi calling phones in order to keep our cell number so people in the US can call us and people in canada and we would only have to carry one phone. But it looks like we are going to go burner Sims in Canada as it will definitely be cheaper.
I still like the 521 and WiFi calling is a huge asset inside buildings where cell reception can be spotty.
The only "free" calls are those that you'd normally make to US numbers from the US. Basically, WiFi calling while traveling internationally tricks your phone into thinking it's in the US. So use it like you would in the US. Calls from your phone via WiFi calling to a number in the country you're currently in will be billed just like you were in the US calling that number. It's great for saving on international roaming while making calls back to the US. It won't save you a dime on making calls to local numbers in the country you're visiting.
Brand new to Windows Phone though, and it's about time!
“That’s handy if you’re on a limited plan, in another country or just don’t want to use your minutes."
Not entirely true, if you have a limited plan like prepaid, Wi-Fi calls will deduct minutes. The "Free" is only for providing the Wi-Fi calling service (no monthly fee for using Wi-Fi calling feature). The minutes are deducted as if you call on their cellular network. It will only help if your cellular signal is too low to place or receive a call.
There is no additional monthly charge to use the Wi-Fi Calling feature on your handset. Wi-Fi Calling uses monthly plan minutes for the following: Calls made from the US to international numbers (subject to international rates) Calls made from outside the US to US numbers (not charged roaming) Calls made from outside the US to international numbers (subject to international rates, but not charged roaming) It never said that minutes will be used for US to US calls
Free Wi-Fi Calling
T-Mobile Free Wi-Fi Calling gives you unlimited Wi-Fi minutes, unlimited high speed data and when travelling internationally free calls back to the USA – all at no additional cost.
I can verify that it doesn't use minutes.
Only way it would come is if SOMEHOW Microsoft sent out an update to ALL Windows Phones with the bits necessary to make this happen. Seeing as how it's T-Mobile only, that soundss extremely unlikely.
Note that the WiFi Calling feature should have outstanding voice quality, as the device features AMR-WB support, which expands the frequency range over which the voice codec operates. Typically phones use wideband (WB) over WiFi, but the more efficient (lower quality) narrowband (NB) over the wide area cellular network.
Let me clear up a couple other misperceptions. Contrary to what was stated, WiFi Calling on T-Mobile never required a "separate router-like device;" rather, it simply required a supported device, a T-Mobile subscription with WiFi Calling enabled, and a WiFi router to which the device can authenticate. Very simple, and seamless.
Also, there is no "free WiFi calling plan." In order to use WiFi Calling, you need a T-Mobile subscription with WiFi Calling enabled, and a supported device such as the Lumia 521. The reason is that the call is routed from the WiFi router over the Internet to a gateway to the T-Mobile network. Therefore: no T-Mobile subscription = no WiFi Calling. But WiFi Calling is a free add-on to smartphone plans at 2GB or above.
Lastly, there is no handoff between WiFi-carried calls and cellular-carried calls. Switching between these networks will drop the call.
Also, I never had any kind of WiFi add-on to my plan and I've used WiFi calling on Android just fine. Unless you need one specifically for Windows Phone or something... which would suck, since I'm on an old plan which doesn't offer that option (at least at my.tmobile.com it doesn't)
Don't get me wrong, WiFi calling was the one missing feature that almost prevented me from getting a WP8 phone, so I'm very glad to see it restored. BTW, although WiFi calling is nice for houses with low signal strength, it's also a huge thing for international travellers. Instead of paying $3 / minute for international roaming, WiFi calling lets you use your minutes without roaming...that's what the WiFi only calling mode is for...so you don't accidentilly roam internationally.
international calls...tell your friends to use skype or some voip app...leaves the number of other international calls even smaller.