International WiFi Calling Hi - I wanted to check to see if anyone has actually used the WiFi calling feature internationally. I live in NYC where T-Mobile service is less than stellar, but I would be willing to tolerate it if I could use the WiFi service in other countries to make calls without paying international fees. Anyone have actual experience doing this?
asked by D. E. Lancet on July 28, 2008
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I just spent 4 months in Europe with T-Mobile and a wifi-enabled 8320, so here are some thoughs. First a general thought, and then specific answers to your questions.

Generally speaking, almost anything you can do over a regular cell phone connection (make calls, surf the web, send text messages, get push email) can be done over wifi for free. The exception is that calls TO international numbers are not free.

The main problem while traveling is that wifi can be hard to find. Sure, there are lots of internet cafes around, but not all have wifi, even ones with wifi don't always work for wifi calling, and then what do you do at night when the places are closed? If you stay in one city and find a reliable wifi signal, then great, but if you're moving from place to place, you'll need to look for new wifi signals all the time, which gets old. Public libraries are good places, but the signal should be strong enought to reach outside so that you don't disturb anyone while making wifi calls. Also, some hotels/hostels/hostals included wifi in the price. Shop around a bit. But overall, I wouldn't want to rely solely on wifi.

Now to your questions:

T-Mobile generally charges Wifi calls based on where you're calling TO, not where you're calling FROM. Whether you are in the US or overseas, if you call a US number, the call is "free", meaning you are charged regular minutes. If you don't go over your plan minutes, you won't get charged for the wifi calls. It's not necessary, but you can get the $10/month service for unlimited wifi calls, in which case they will not be counted as part of your regular minutes. However, if my memory serves me well, according to the T-Mobile terms of service agreement, the "unlimited" applies only if you are in the US; so if you make a wifi call internationally, it counts against your regular minutes. But I was told by a few T-Mobile employees that T-Mobile has no way of knowing where you are when you make a wifi call -- there are no cell towers to keep track of your location. So even though the TOS says wifi calls from international locations count against your regular minutes rather than being unlimited, it may be that T-Mobile will never know the difference. I didn't use enough minutes while travelling for that to be an issue for me. All I know is that I was never charged for any of the US calls I made while I travelled.

You can also call international numbers over wifi, but you'll be charged international rates no matter whether you call from the US to overseas or from one foreign country to another. If you want to make calls to non-US numbers, you'd be better off using a local SIM card, as you mentioned. But first you need to have your phone unlocked, which T-mobile will gladly do after you've been a customer for 3 months, sometimes even less - they gave us the unlock code for one phone (a Samsung) less than 2 months after we signed up with T-Mobile, but for another phone (Blackberry) they made us wait the full 3 months.

To make wifi calls (again, only US numbers are free), you'd need your regular T-Mobile SIM card in place. When you make a wifi call, your phone actually logs into a T-Mobile server somewhere on the internet, and the server would not recognize your phone if you were using another SIM card. So, you should have two SIM cards - one for making local calls in your overseas location, and the the T-Mobile SIM card for making wifi calls to US numbers.

Since you need the T-Mobile SIM card in place to make wifi calls, you should take certain precautions. First, turn off the phone network connection as you suggested. It's not necessary - it won't get it the way of making a wifi call. But when you're done making the wifi call and you walk away from the wifi signal, if you still have the T-Mobile SIM card in and the phone network connection is on, you are vulnerable to receiving a phone call, which will be charged to you at international rates. Even if you don't answer the call and have it go to voice mail, you will be charged international rates for the length of the message left on voice mail. So, whenever your T-Mobile SIM card is in place, turn OFF the phone network connection.

You don't need to have international roaming to make WIFI calls while traveling internationally because the international roaming feature is related to the regular phone network and not to wifi. However, you MAY need to have international roaming enabled in order to make non-wifi calls overseas, even if you unlock your phone and use a foreign SIM. I don't know for sure because I haven't used a foreign SIM, but my 8320 did have problems connecting to the local cell service, and those problems weren't resolved until T-Moble enabled int'l roaming on my phone. I don't know if the change they made was on their computer system or on my phone itself (say, a service book), but I can easily imagine a scenario where your phone won't be able to connect to a foreign cell signal, even if you have a foreign SIM, if T-Mobile doesn't enable international roaming for you. You should call them and find out.

You'll also need to have international roaming enabled if you want to have email pushed to your phone while travelling ($20/month) where there's no wifi signal. (Push email over wifi is free and does not need roaming enabled.) I got this service, which also requires the $25/month data plan, and it didn't work correctly for 3 months. Whenever I was on wifi, I got my email, text messages, etc. no problem. But away from a wifi signal, nothing. No email, no text messages, no phone signal, no nothing. All my calls to customer service ended up in the Blackberry department, and they couldn't fix it. My last call accidentally landed in another department, and they fixed it in about a minute. They simply enabled "World Clacss International Roaming." (Apparently from some earlier conversation, they assumed that I only wanted to make wifi calls, so they disabled the regular cell network connection. Unfortunately for me, I needed emails sent to my phone no matter where I was, not only when I was on wifi.)

So it's not enough simply to get the international email service, which in my mind should imply to them that you're going overseas. You also have to tell them explicitly that you want roaming enabled on your phone. Otherwise, your phone might be crippled overseas (even if you use a foreign SIM, but again, I'm not sure; talk to T-Mobile).

One extra benefit of the $20 international email service (plus $25 data plan -- you need both) is that you can get on the web at any time, just like at home. If you have ONLY the $25 data plan and you surf the web overseas, you'll be charged exorbitant rates -- $10 per megabyte or something ridiculous. But if you if you have the $20 international email on top of the normal $25 data plan, you can surf the internet without being charged. If you're going to have frequent wifi access, there's no need for spending the $45/mo to get on the internet or have email pushed to your phone. You can cancel both services while you're away. But if you're going to want to google things frequently or get push email while away from wifi, it's a good idea to add the email service to the data plan.

You should also get the customer service number for use internationally. At first I thought I could only call the regular number (800-937-8997), which is a US number that is free only over wifi. But wifi was scarce sometimes, so I often had to wait days before I could make the call. After my problem was finally resolved, they gave me another number to call from overseas which they said was toll-free or collect or something. I never needed to use it because the problem was resolved by then. But it would have been handy to have that number earlier. I don't have the number at my fingertips to give to you now. You should get that number before you go.

My recommendations:
- get unlock code if you've been a customer 3 months
- get a foreign SIM card before you go; we looked briefly on the internet and found some good deals but didn't get anything, and the ones we looked at while travelling were much more expensive; we should have bought one before leaving the US
- get the toll-free customer service number to use while overseas (not the regular 800-937-8997 number)
- enable int'l roaming; this is not necessary for wifi calling, but it IS necessary for push email, it IS necessary for connecting to a foreign cell signal with a T-Mobile SIM card, and it MIGHT be necessary for connecting to a foreign cell signal with a foreign SIM
- use wifi to call US numbers only; calls to international numbers will be charged at T-Mobile's international rates.
- if you think you'll be making a ton of wifi calls (more than your plan minutes), try the $10/month unlimited wifi calling. Even though officially it's not unlimited while you're overseas, if the T-Mobile employees are correct in saying that T-Mobile can't know where you are at when making a wifi call, it might be worth a shot. Otherwise, if you won't be making many calls, don't bother getting the $10 service.
- while the T-Mobile SIM card is in the phone, keep the phone network connection turned off; this saves batteries and prevents unwanted incoming phone calls.
- if you get the international email plan, you will need the T-Mobile SIM card in place; if you are not near wifi, you'll need to turn the phone network connection on to get the email; just turn it on for a minute or so while downloading email, then turn it off to prevent incoming calls.
- if you want international email sent to your phone but you can afford to wait until you're near wifi, don't bother paying for the $20/mo plan; you can set your phone up with the Setup Wizard, and you should be able to get email for free while connected to wifi.
- the same goes for the $25/mo data plan; if you don't need constant access to the internet, you can cancel the data plan; but if you want internet access even when away from wifi, keep the $25 data plan and add the $20 int'l email plan on top; if you don't add the email plan you'll pay through the nose for internet access.

Happy trails!
Michael Kenny answered on August 10, 2009
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Can you tell me more about making WiFi calls from Europe? I'm thinking about switching to T-Mobile specifically for the abililty to make WiFi calls abroad, and I want to make sure I have it all straight before I make the change.

You say that you call from a European hotspot to the US "for free", but according to T-Mobile's Terms of Service (effective June 28, 2008), if you use WiFi abroad, "calls to U.S. numbers are not included as part of the [WiFi Calling] add-on feature and are charged under your Rate Plan". This sounds to me like they don't charge you roaming rates for WiFi calls to the US, but they *do* count them against your minutes. That is, it's "free" like most cell phone calls are free - as long as you don't go over your minutes.

Is that right? Does T-Mobile just treat these calls as normal calls that count against your normal monthly minutes, with no charges such as international roaming?

Also, how do you set up a hotspot? Do you plug into an ethernet port at your hotel, office, etc? Could I just bring my own WiFi router from home, or do you need something special?
Michael Kenny answered on November 17, 2008
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If you mean calling international numbers from US, that does not matter - you pay the same rate either calling from HotSpot or GSM. However when I travel to Europe I take my own portable router. Whenever possible (a hotel room, an office) I set my own WiFi Hotspot and call US numbers for free. That works excellent!
D. Matusiak answered on August 4, 2008
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Thanks for all the info!

Yes, I've thought about Skype, but I would need to have a computer with me. While travelling in Europe, I don't know that I'll have a laptop with me, so I would need other options. Hopefully the WiFi calling with T-Mobile would do the trick - as long as I'm at a hotspot, I can use the phone to call the US over WiFi, without paying international roaming charges.

As for iSkoot, it seems great for making from the US to international destinations. However, it wouldn't be helpful while in Europe because it works with the phone's voice plan, meaning I would have to make a call (paying international roaming rates), and then iSkoot piggybacks on top of that. But I'll definitely look into it for calling Europe from the US.

Also, there is some pretty cool software on the Shapeservices.com site you mentioned. With one app (Mobiscope) you can use certain cell phones to watch a webcam running at home, e.g., to keep an eye on your kids or pets. With another (GPSed) you can use GPS with your phone to track your movements while travelling, to set the location of pictures that you take, etc., and then look at the map online.

Thanks again!
Michael Kenny answered on November 18, 2008
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You got me thinking... T-Mobile specifically limits the free WiFi calls to US phones, but it seems (I'm not sure, which is why I posted my original question yesterday) that it's okay to use a US phone while in Europe to call a US number via WiFi. So maybe it would be possible to make a WiFi call from Europe to iSkoot's US number, and iSkoot/Skype would take over from there to call anywhere you want to call.

I seem to remember some restriction about calling numbers that aren't regular phone numbers, e.g., calling card numbers that you use to place other calls, but I can't find it in the TOS document right now. If that's true, then I think iSkoot would cost me international rates. But it's worth looking into...

Tante grazie,

Ciao
Michael Kenny answered on November 18, 2008
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Thanks for your thoughts on iSkoot. I had not thought about the minute charges. I thought that T-Mobile did not charge you minutes if you dialed over the internet via WiFi. We have T-Mobile@Home ($9.95/month using their modified Linksys router with a SIM card with our T-Mobile BB 8320 Curve w/WiFi. The phones switche automatically to WiFi the minute we are within range. COOL. CHEAP. EFFECTIVE. It uses the landline number we had with AT&T for 10 years and is $20 less per month. Plus we have 2 V-Tech wireless phones in the house using that number at no additional charge.

I have and use GPSed and GPSed Photo with a GSat Bluetooth GPS device. Works great.

We spent August in Tuscana and on the Amalfi Coast, Italy. I would recommend that if you are going to drive rent car get/rent a GPS with the local maps. Most of the car rental agencies have them or you can rent it in America with Italian maps. We rented ours through Eurocar for about $10/day. Gets you were you are going and avoids arguments with your spouce or friends.

Ciao!
TX Vaquero Riding the Gas Range answered on November 18, 2008
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To Glenn Heffernan question "What is FREEE WiFi Calling?":

As far as I know, T-Mobile is the only US carrier to offer wifi calling, also known as UMA. And only certain phones are able to make those calls. Many Blackberries can, plus a handful of other phones (our family has two Samsungs and a Nokia that can make wifi calls). These phones are able to connect to the internet over wifi and make calls. Google for more info on UMA and for a list of known UMA-capable phones.

Wifi calling is "free" like regular phone calls are "free," meaning you pay for a plan but not for individual calls unless you go over the plan amount. That is, if your plan includes 1,000 minutes and you talk for 999 minutes (with any combination of wifi and/or regular cell calls), you don't pay anything extra -- you pay for the plan but you don't pay extra for wifi calling. If you talk 1,001 minutes (again, with any combination of wifi and/or regular cell calls), you pay extra for the extra one minute over the plan amount. You are not charged specifically for calling on wifi; you are only charged for using more minutes than the plan includes. In that way, wifi calls are exactly like regular calls, the only difference being in the technology used to make the call (wifi vs. cell towers).

And "free" only applies to calls that would normally be "free" in your plan; that is, calls to US numbers only. You can't call a French or Japanese phone number for free over wifi. You'll be charged international rates just as if you made the call over the regular cell lines. BUT... you can be in France and call the US over wifi. As long as you are on wifi and calling a US number, you will only be charged minutes against your plan amount but not anything for the call specifically. You can even be in France and make a wifi call to someone else in France (or Japan, South Africa, or wherever) who has a US number. (Of course, if the person in France has a phone that can't do wifi calling, then they will pay to receive an international call, but that's their issue, not yours.)

If you are out of the US, the main thing is that you must be on wifi to make or receive "free" calls (no international charges). If not, you'll pay international rates. If you are making a call, the person you are calling must have a US number. Neither of you needs to be in the US; you simply need to be on wifi, and the other person needs a US phone number.

A few years ago T-Mobile offered a deal for $10/month where you could talk *unlimited* over wifi. That is, if your plan includes 1,000 minutes, those minutes would apply only to regular cell calls; you could talk 10,000 minutes on wifi and not be charged (except for the $10 to have that service). But T-Mobile doesn't offer it any more, unless you've had it all along and are grandfathered.

Think of a wifi router as your own private cell tower with no location associated with it. The phone connects to the phone company but the phone company doesn't know where you are. Normal cell tower locations are known, so if your phone is near a cell tower in France, T-Mobile knows that you are in France. But when you connect over wifi, T-Mobile only knows that you are "on the internet;" they don't know that you are "in France on the internet." You can be connected to wifi in your own home or in France, and T-Mobile treats the calls like local calls.

Some people think UMA is like Skype. It is and it isn't. Both make calls over the internet, but Skype is pure internet, with no relation to the phone company. With UMA you are actually using the phone company to make a call; you are just using the internet to access the phone company's services. Also, with Skype you need a Skype account and a Skype app with its own configuration, address book, etc., and you need to coordinate with the person on the other end -- they need to be logged into Skype and ready to take your call. With UMA/wifi calling, you just connect your phone to the internet and make calls as normal, using the address book on your phone.

As some people have indicated above, UMA/wifi calling is not foolproof. Sometimes your phone can connect to wifi but UMA calls can't be made. In order to make UMA calls, your phone needs to connect to T-Mobile's servers. If for one reason or another the phone can't get through to T-Mobile, you can't make wifi calls. This depends on the exact setup of the wifi network you are trying to connect to. The network might block certain kinds of internet traffic (e.g., VOIP) or there may be several levels of logging in, accepting the providers terms and conditions, etc., and the phone just can't navigate its way through. From my experience this happens quite often when you are wandering around and randomly trying to connect to wifi networks that your phone detects. But for places like libraries or cafes that offer free wifi to their customers, the setup usually works pretty well.

Besides using UMA when travelling internationally, you can put wifi calling to good use in the US. Anywhere the cell phone signal is weak or non-existent, wifi calling can make all the difference. I have a friend who lives in a dead zone, and I just connect to his wifi and I get perfect phone service. Everyone else's phones are useless.

So, only T-Mobile offers wifi calling. Only certain phone models are able to make wifi calls. If you are out of the US, you must be on wifi in order to make or receive "free" calls. If you receive a call over wifi, it doesn't matter who calls you -- it only matters that you are on wifi. And if you make a call over wifi, the number you are calling must be a US number. The same applies to texting: receive text "free" over wifi, send text "free" over wifi to US numbers only. That is, if your plan includes texting. Some wifi networks will give you trouble, so have a backup plan if it's really important to make the call.
Michael Kenny answered on January 30, 2012
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This is one of the best posts I have ever seen on Amazon. This answers the original question perfectly. It seems so difficult to get an answer to the question that Michael has answered in a very comprehensive manner.

Forget about Skype, unless you have a phone like the newer version of Android (G2) which promises a full Skype client, your best bet is to purchase something like the Nokia E63 which allows you to set up VOIP natively on the phone and use over VOIP without having to use Skype.

The advantage of using a VOIP provider is that you can have your own phone number and people can call it like a real phone and when you call them they can see who is calling. The other advantage is that many VOIP providers such as callwithus are very inexpensive its about a penny per minute for many countries in the world.

I plan to use the T-Mobile 8900 with Wifi when I am in India, I have the 10 bucks a month unlimited wifi calling and since I will be spending most of my time in one place which has DSL with a wireless router I am hoping it will work seamlessly.

In some countries they block the VOIP ports (which should not affect T-Mobile) but if you are using a VOIP provider on the E63 then I would suggest that you download Fring for free and configure your Voip provider on there.
Sri Sri answered on August 21, 2009
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Consider using SKYPE for international calls from WiFi locations. We call South America, France, Great Britain and Italy very inexpensively on SKYPE. THe software is Free and the SKYPE Credits are cheap. Check out there web site. As a Bonus you can call land lines, cell phone and computers. Computer to computer calls are free. Hope this helps.
TX Vaquero Riding the Gas Range answered on October 2, 2008
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Your best bet might be to to call T-M Customer Care and ask them directly. I deal with a local T-M company store (not a franchise or mall kiosk) and have developed a good relationship with several of the reps there so they are very candid. If they don't know, they call to find out. The reps at Customer Care are very sharp and candid too.
TX Vaquero Riding the Gas Range answered on November 18, 2008
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