About a third of all respondents in an AARP technology survey released this month told researchers that they had problems with their video calls breaking or freezing. About half say they use their mobile phones to place or accept these calls. Spotty cellphone service has a simple solution that many may not be aware of: Hook up your smartphone to your home's Wi-Fi network.
Why join to your Wi-Fi network?
To make calls, many mobile phone users rely on a cellular connection, which needs to communicate with towers outside the home. A nearby and strong Wi-Fi router could increase the quality of your audio-video communication significantly and ensure faster and more reliable speeds for other phone activities.
A few other reasons to get your mobile phone on Wi-Fi:
• Streaming video. If you're watching TV shows and movies on your smartphone via services such as Apple TV+ or Netflix and you're not on a Wi-Fi network, your entertainment time will count toward your wireless phone's data plan. Watching a program in standard definition, commonly referred to as 480p (a screen height of 480 pixels with a progressive scan that draws the picture line by line in sequence), can use up to 1 gigabyte (GB) of data every hour, according to Netflix. That's way below today's standards for TV screen resolution.
Newer smartphone and tablet models, both Android and iPhone, rival big TVs in their ability to show crisp, clear video — even with their smaller screens. High definition, 720p, streaming can use up to 3 GB of data an hour, and ultra high definition, better known as 4K or 2160p, quality can eat up to 7 GB an hour, Netflix says.
Even if your cellphone plan says it has unlimited data, it might slow your data speeds if network traffic is high or if you use more than a certain amount in a billing cycle. If you have a data cap, you might face overage fees that can get steep quickly. Many plans sell you extra data in 1 GB increments even if you go over the limit just slightly, so it's wise to push your data usage to your home Wi-Fi when possible.
• Printing documents. If you want to print something from your smartphone — a document, email or photo — you likely will need to be on the same Wi-Fi network as your wireless printer.
Exceptions include printers that use an email or an app to print from anywhere, even outside the home. But most wireless printers require you to print by being on the same Wi-Fi network as the device requesting the print job, and that's at home.
• Calling via Wi-Fi. If your smartphone supports it, and chances are it does, you can make and receive audio calls and text messages over a Wi-Fi network.
Wi-Fi calling is ideal when you're in a place with weak or no cellular network coverage. However, before you can use your Wi-Fi for voice calls, the Federal Communications Commission requires mobile phone providers to support 911 calls, so they first must collect a registered home location from you to enable the service.
But wait, you already have your mobile phone connected to Wi-Fi? And you're still having some performance issues?
No problem. Whether you're not connected yet or you are but want to improve the experience, we can help. The following is a simple walkthrough on what to do.
How to get your smartphone on Wi-Fi
Connecting your mobile phone to Wi-Fi is similar to doing so for a computer, smart TV, wireless printer and other devices you may have in your house.
You need to know two things: your Wi-Fi network name, sometimes referred to as a Service Set Identifier (SSID), and its password. Just like other devices, you need to add your phone to your Wi-Fi network only once unless you change the name of your Wi-Fi network or password in the future.
1. Tap the Settings icon, which looks like a gray gear, from your home screen.
2. Tap the section near the top labeled Wi-Fi.
3. Make sure Wi-Fi is enabled, which will have a green toggle switch to show it's turned on.
4. See the list of all nearby Wi-Fi networks that your smartphone detects under Network.
5. Select the name of your home network.
6. Type in its password when prompted.
Now you should see the familiar Wi-Fi symbol, which looks like curved radio waves beaming up, appear at the very top of your iPhone. The more curves, the stronger your Wi-Fi signal, not unlike seeing vertical bars to indicate cellular signal strength.
Be aware not all Android phones are set up the exact same, so some of these steps may vary slightly among models from Google, LG, Moto, Samsung and other manufacturers.
1. Swipe down from the very top of your Android phone's home screen and you'll see the Wi-Fi symbol near the top. If this swipe down action doesn't work for some reason, you can also tap the Settings icon that looks like a gray gear on your home screen.
2. Tap and hold the Wi-Fi symbol. If you're already connected to a Wi-Fi network, it will be listed under Current network.
3. Make sure that Wi-Fi is enabled by tapping the toggle switch to On if you're not connected to your Wi-Fi network. Some phones may skip that step and ask you to Add network.
4. Tap the name of your Wi-Fi network after your phone scans for nearby networks.
5. Type in its password when prompted.
6. Ensure Auto reconnect is enabled, if asked, so your phone will automatically join your Wi-Fi network when you walk in your door.
Improving the Wi-Fi connection
If you already have your smartphone on your home's Wi-Fi network but still have problems, maybe your Wi-Fi needs some tender loving care.
• Upgrade your service. You could have the fastest router in the world, but it won't be useful if you aren't getting fast speeds from your internet service provider (ISP). Budget permitting, go with the fastest speeds available in your neighborhood, which may require a newer router.
• Look at location. Ensure your router is in an optimal spot in your home. Keep it on the main or top floor and close to the center of the house for optimum reach. Refrain from keeping your router in a basement because it will be tough for devices elsewhere in the home to communicate with it. Make sure the router is elevated on a desk or table and has nothing near it to obstruct the signal.
• Get a better router. You can have a modem from your ISP for internet connectivity but opt for a better router for wireless access. If that's what you prefer, and it's been a few years since you've upgraded your router, consider picking up a new router. Look for Wi-Fi 6, the latest standard. It's not only faster but supports more simultaneous devices on the network.
• Consider a mesh system. Those in a larger home or older home with concrete walls might consider a mesh or whole house network. The more advanced router includes multiple bases or hubs — wireless extenders, if you will — to place around the home. These devices all wirelessly communicate with the router to blanket a broader space with faster and more reliable Wi-Fi. This is a modular system, so you can add more bases if you need them.
• Return to wires. If your devices, such as a desktop computer, support a wired connection, plug them into the modem or router if it's close enough. This requires an inexpensive Ethernet cable, which looks like a fatter telephone cable. If devices, like your smartphone, are wireless only, try to be as close to your router as possible for the best performance, or consider a mesh system or wireless extender for the part of the home where you're having spotty reception.
• Change frequencies. Today's Wi-Fi routers broadcast in two different frequencies: 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) and 5 GHz. Figuring out the best one for your situation can improve your network's reach, speed and reliability. The 5 GHz frequency minimizes interference among devices operating on the 2.4 GHz frequency in the home, such as baby monitors, cordless phones and microwaves. The 2.4 GHz frequency is able to reach farther distances than the 5 GHz frequency, but devices connected to the 5 GHz frequency operate at faster speeds.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies and Siri for Dummies.