What is Wi-Fi calling, and does it work on satellite internet?

A cell phone using the wifi calling feature.

Wi-Fi calling: If you’re in an area with patchy or non-existent cellphone coverage, you should know about this feature. It wirelessly tethers your smartphone to your Viasat service to expand your voice and texting options. In effect, it lets you make calls and send texts over Wi-Fi when you’re within range of a router instead of using your mobile network (and your cell phone data).

Since Wi-Fi calling is usually free, that can offset the cost of data-limited cell plans. And it gives you access in areas cell towers don’t reach, which should mean better, clearer calls. Plus, the service is often much faster.

Wi-Fi calling doesn’t use much internet data — only about 1 MB/minute, according to Verizon. In other words, a five-minute phone call uses about the same amount of data as downloading a couple of songs.

Major cellphone carriers now offer this option, but check with yours to see if it’s available on your smartphone.

(Wi-Fi calling is not quite the same as VoIP. While Voice over Internet Protocol uses the internet to connect you to the public telephone system, Wi-Fi calling uses the internet to transmit your voice to your mobile carrier’s network without using cell towers. You can use VoIP via satellite internet as well.)

Once you’ve got it, it’ll detect when you’ve got limited cell coverage and, if you’re in Wi-Fi range — in your home, at a coffee shop, airport, store or wherever — automatically switch your phone to that connection. Other than more consistent call quality, you probably won’t even be aware the switch has happened. The one indicator is a “Wi-Fi” icon in the status bar. Its appearance varies among carriers and phone models.

If it sounds similar to Skype or WhatsApp, that’s because it is. But other messaging programs require users to create a program-specific number. Wi-Fi calling is much more seamless. Callers use their own cellphone number and address book, and calls and texts are recorded on call logs.

It’s a great service for travelers because Wi-Fi calling usually doesn’t include roaming or international charges. But again, check with your carrier to see if you can use it outside the continental U.S. Some allow it, some don’t. And some countries support the feature, while others don’t.

How to set up Wi-Fi calling:

  • iPhone: Go to Settings > Phone and then turn on Wi-Fi calling.
  • Android: Go to Settings > Networks > Call, then turn on Wi-Fi calling.

You might be asked to enter or update your emergency address to activate the service.

If you don’t have Wi-Fi calling, check out apps like FaceTime, Google Voice, Line, Skype, WhatsApp and WeChat. While the process to set up and use these is a little more complex, they’ll also let you make voice or video calls and send texts over Wi-Fi — usually for free. It’s a handy way to keep in touch using your Viasat Internet service at home, especially if you’re calling overseas.

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