VoLTE vs. WiFi Calling: VoIP technology differences + configuration tips

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In the world of VoIP, you may see the terms “VoLTE” and “WiFi Calling.” You’d be right in assuming that the first one uses a cellular data connection and the second uses WiFi. But there’s more to it than that. πŸ˜‰

Let’s dive into the differences between VoLTE and WiFi Calling.

What is VoIP?

Voice over internet protocol, or VoIP, is the technology that makes it possible to send audio over an internet connection.

You may have talked over VoIP without even realizing it — in a calling app πŸ“ž like Skype, or on voice chat πŸ—£ in a video game. Your cell phone carrier may route calls over VoIP, as well, to preserve capacity on the cellular network.

What is VoLTE?

Voice-over-long-term-evolution, or VoLTE, is VoIP calling on cellular data.

(“LTE” refers to 4G cellular tech. Even if your phone has 5G, it’s still called VoLTE because it uses your phone’s 4G connection.)

The reason “LTE” is in the name is that VoLTE marked an evolution in cellular voice. Earlier 3G wireless networks could only manage data speeds of around 2Mbps. 4G LTE networks were much faster 🐎, allowing calls to move from carriers’ voice channel to their data channel.

Routing calls with data allows for more efficiency in channel allocation. That enables more devices to use the network. It also, for the first time, allowed carriers to introduce high-definition voice codecs. That means better call quality.

But there are two limitations in the way VoLTE works. The first is that it’s voice-only, with no support for video. The second is the fact that it’s something called network-level VoIP — delivering an experience that’s limited by what the network can do.

Contrast this with app-level VoIP (see below), which can intelligently switch between networks to find the best one. VoLTE can fall back to 3G, but that’s it. And if your data connection disappears completely, a VoLTE call will drop. 😠

VoLTE must also be optimized for network performance. What that means in practice is that the carriers use a low-fat HD audio codec, known as G.711, for VoLTE calls. With a 64K bitrate (designed for dial-up modems!), G.711 leaves a lot to be desired compared to newer, better codecs.

So, while your VoLTE calls are technically HD quality, they’re not nearly as sharp as they could be. πŸ‘Ž

What is WiFi Calling?

WiFi Calling can mean two different things. With a lower-case “c” it refers to the general practice of making a VoIP call over WiFi. With an upper-case “C,” like we’re using here, it refers to the setting on your phone in which your calls automatically route over WiFi.

So just what is “WiFi Calling” in the capital-C sense? In contrast to VoLTE, which is network-layer VoIP, WiFi Calling is known as app-layer VoIP.

With app-layer VoIP, an app, rather than your network connection, dictates how the call is handled. App-layer VoIP doesn’t have to use WiFi. It can operate on 3G, 4G, 5G, Bluetooth… you name it.

In other words, it’s up to the app πŸ‘† how the call takes place. But that’s where you may run into snags with WiFi Calling — which is your wireless carrier’s way of routing calls over WiFi with the “Phone” app.

While the carriers are becoming more app capable, they’re not as advanced as some other players in the market (like, ahem, illumy). That’s why WiFi Calling can deliver a not-so-great experience. πŸ˜’

Have you ever started a call on WiFi Calling, then stepped outside where you don’t have a WiFi signal? If your phone’s WiFi Calling mode struggles to make that transition, the call might drop.

So, while making VoIP calls over WiFi is great in theory, WiFi Calling may not always be trustworthy.

What are the main differences between VoLTE and WiFi Calling?

To sum up the differences:

– VoLTE uses a 4G data connection to make VoIP calls. WiFi Calling uses WiFi.
– VoLTE is network-layer VoIP. WiFi Calling is app-layer VoIP.
– VoLTE is limited by your wireless network’s performance. It can suffer from drops, and provides lower-quality calls than today’s best-in-class audio codecs.
– WiFi Calling is a carrier setting that may not always work well if you move in and out of your WiFi’s range.

What does the shutdown of 3G networks mean for VoIP over a data connection?

Honestly, very little. The 3G shutdown has been in the works for years, and nearly everywhere with 3G service also has 4G nowadays.

Ultimately, getting rid of 3G will mean better network performance — not just for VoIP but all sorts of things. That 3G spectrum will be reused as 5G for faster speeds, more efficiency, and much lower latency. 🦾

What are some tips for getting the best calls on VoLTE or WiFi Calling?

Configure your wireless router settings for better performance.

If you make a lot of VoIP calls on your home WiFi, it can be worthwhile to get familiar with your router settings. In particular, a setting called QoS (quality of service) can be activated to prioritize certain kinds of traffic: calls, video conferences, gaming, you name it.

This general guide is a good place to start, but you may want to Google your router model + QoS to find a more specific walkthrough.

Invest in better home WiFi.

If your router is more than a few years old, it’s probably not using the latest connectivity protocols. Upgrading to a new router can give your WiFi performance a huge lift.

Even better, consider a mesh network if you have a large living space. Mesh networks blanket your entire home in WiFi, eliminating dead zones. πŸš«πŸ§Ÿβ€β™€οΈ

Get a new device with 5G.

5G networks are still being rolled out, and depending on where you live and what carrier you use, your mileage may vary. If your carrier performs well in 5G, though, it may be worth upgrading to a new phone that can take advantage.

5G doesn’t just mean higher peak speeds. It also promises massive latency improvements. These two things together will make your VoIP calls much better — as long as you’re using a calling app with a modern audio codec.

Seek out the latest app-layer VoIP technology.

The codecs used in the latest calling apps, like illumy 3.0, will greatly boost your VoIP call quality. illumy’s audio codec — Opus — allows for real-time rate adaption that can reduce quality when bandwidth is low, or boost it when bandwidth is high: for more and higher highs and more and lower lows. πŸ‘‚

Another benefit of illumy 3.0 is freedom from carrier settings and performance. In contrast to VoLTE and WiFi Calling, which are ultimately dependent on your carrier, illumy is network agnostic. Should one network drop out, it can switch immediately to another available network.

The final benefit to app-layer VoIP in illumy is lower costs, particularly when calling internationally 🌏. With illumy VoIP, you’ll be able to make and receive calls anywhere in the globe with a data connection and hang up on roaming fees.

Even if you travel somewhere where 3G is still the standard, we’ve got you covered for that too. illumy VoIP will work on a symmetric connection of just 150Kbps.

Photo by Vaiva Deksnyte on Unsplash.

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