Cellular vs Wi-Fi (and Wi-Fi Calling)

Wi-Fi vs 4G Mobile

Mobile phone reception and Wi-Fi are completely separate connectivity technologies, whilst a mobile phone can use Wi-Fi for an internet connection and Wi-Fi calling when available it is not the typical medium of making and receiving phone calls.

There is a little confusion in the consumer space between 5GHz Wi-Fi and Cellular 5G. Just know these are not related at all, so when you connect to a Wi-Fi with a 5G in the name, it’s just referring to the 5Ghz band the Wi-Fi uses instead of the older and slower 2.4GHz which often has a lot of interference.

Typically compared with public Wi-Fi there are 3 main considerations which still create a need for a 4G/5G cellular-based data connection:

  1. There is a concern more than ever surrounding the security of public Wi-Fi, it presents opportunities for data collection and exposure to a variety of cyberattacks. The general consensus is that any public Wi-Fi is not a safe medium for anything sensitive such as internet banking.
  2. As Wi-Fi is a shared spectrum technology its extremely susceptible to interference and consequently in public spaces, it’s very hard to guarantee any quality of performance. Imagine a shopping centre or airport where every shop has its own Wi-Fi for staff, essentially every Wi-Fi network is competing and consequently, the performance is often mediocre
  3. The biggest of all really is that ultimately your availability to make and receive phone calls is generally dependant on the quality of your cellular 4G/5G connection, something Wi-Fi cant directly substitutes.

For some time Wi-Fi had high uptake rates however with the prevalence of higher data allowance or even unlimited mobile data plans and the increasing concern of data security individuals often prefer to use their cellular connection by default unless absolutely necessary (plus they have to go through the painful task of signing up for every hotspot and often providing an email address). There is still value in offering Wi-Fi services, particularly in tourist areas or more controlled RF environments (office space), the reality is Wi-Fi and cellular coexist in providing a full suite of connectivity to suite different venue and circumstances.

Wi-Fi Calling, Cellular vs Wi-Fi (and Wi-Fi Calling)
Wi-Fi Calling, Cellular vs Wi-Fi (and Wi-Fi Calling)

Wi-Fi Calling

Whilst some modern mobile phones can utilise Wi-Fi calling features typically this performs best when there is absolutely no coverage (say in a rural area or remote beach house). When some level of coverage exists, phones tend to switch between the Wi-Fi calling and 4G networks and often leave calls going to voicemail and overall bad connectivity experience. Furthermore, it typically works best when you are not moving around, as it cannot hop between Wi-Fi networks and often struggles to change back to the cellular network, say coming and going from your home. But it can work just fine hunkered down in your basement and not moving!

There are some challenges on Android handsets requiring manufacturers to implement specific firmware on an operator by operator basis, which can result in challenges if you purchased a phone with Telstra and then make a decision to move to Optus later. Likewise, it can limit some out of the box handset options, for example ordering handsets which may not officially be supported by your operator.

Wi-Fi calling can be good in a jam and when you are don’t need to rely on it for business connectivity, but if it’s letting you down you might be better suited with a 4G Signal Booster