What Is the Difference Between Wi-Fi Calling & Wi-Fi Data on Cell Phones?

By Dan Stone

Wi-Fi calling handles calls with VoIP on a Wi-Fi connection instead of the cellular network.
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Thee difference between Wi-Fi calling and Wi-Fi data is that the former is a subset of the latter on a cellular phone. Wi-Fi calling is designed to help connect calls in places cellular networks can't reach by enabling a wireless access point to act like a range extender or signal booster for mobile phones. Calls made over Wi-Fi are handled through Voice over Internet Protocol instead on whatever Internet connection the Wi-Fi access point is connected to instead of the cellular network.

Cellular Phone Data Usage

Cellular phone services differentiate between phone call traffic and Internet traffic by creating different subsets of network bandwidth. Cellular services that don't fall under unlimited usage plans charge phone calls and Internet data usage differently. However, the cellular network distinction between call and data usage does not apply to Wi-Fi-based services; calls made over Wi-Fi would be classified under the mobile device's Wi-Fi data usage and not a phone call or data usage over the cellular network.

Data Usage on Wi-Fi

Cellular phone data usage constitutes any Internet traffic that goes through the phone: things like phone calls and SMS messaging are counted separately. The cellular network no longer handles the data traffic when a mobile phone uses data over a Wi-Fi connection. Instead the the Wi-Fi network's Internet connection handles all data traffic and incurs any data usage fees. Typically, land-based Internet connections offer data at a much cheaper rate than cellular networks. Smartphones can use data over Wi-Fi to access the Internet through a lower-cost network and conserve cellular data usage for times where there is no available Wi-Fi connection.

Voice Over IP Calling

VoIP technology uses the Internet to connect calls instead of a phone network. VoIP callers aren't limited to only calling other VoIP users: the technology is capable of connecting Internet-based calls to landline based calls. VoIP is a low-cost alternative to the traditional phone network and requires a broadband Internet connection. Some cellular phone apps can make VoIP calls over any data connection, including cellular and land-based Internet.

Calling Over Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi calling bridges VoIP with running a cellular phone's data service over Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi calling may be a built-in feature on a phone with a particular cellular provider or initiated through a smartphone app. Other phones may opt to make a call over Wi-Fi automatically if there's a strong Wi-Fi signal but a weak cellular network signal. Wi-Fi calling can be useful in areas where you don't get a strong cellular signal, such as within a building or outside of the cellular network's coverage.