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Vodafone UK Leave WiFi Calling Users Waiting for SMS Support

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 (12:01 am) - Score 13,941

Mobile operator Vodafone’s recent decision to stop selling their femtocell based Sure Signal 3G router on 30th April 2020, while instead encouraging use of Wi-Fi Calling, has one significant flaw. The latter still doesn’t support the ability to send and receive text (SMS) messages (it’s been listed as coming “soon” since 2018).

Just to recap. Sure Signal (v3) is a small device that plugs into a fixed line broadband ISP network (minimum connection speed required is 1Mbps), which enables it to harness your home internet connection in order to boost an indoor 3G mobile signal using the 2100MHz band. Such devices have been useful for people who live in locations with either a weak indoor mobile signal or no signal at all.

Unfortunately Vodafone decided to stop selling Sure Signal on 30th April 2020 and instead promoted use of a similar service called Wi-Fi Calling (VoWiFi), which has been available for several years and enables consumers to harness their home WiFi connection in order to make calls.

The catch with their WiFi based calling service is that it is dependent upon support existing via your Smartphone, although many modern mobiles now have this. But that’s not the only issue.

The Wi-Fi Calling feature can also work for SMS messages and indeed it does on some other operators (e.g. Three UK and EE), although Vodafone still hasn’t added this feature and that’s despite saying in 2018 it would be coming “soon” (they repeated this again last year too).

Until now this wasn’t such a concern, since Vodafone’s customers could just take a Sure Signal device, but the withdrawal of that before Wi-Fi Calling can do SMS is causing concern. Many services use SMS as part of two-factor authentication (e.g. banks, Vodafone’s own account system etc.) and a lot of those don’t work with alternatives like WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessage (many people still don’t use those platforms in general).

A Vodafone Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We’re aiming to have SMS over WiFi available for both Android and iOS devices by the end of the year.”

In fairness we know that adding SMS to WiFi Calling is very complex to implement and requires a lot of testing, which might help to explain why Vodafone have been slow to implement it. We should point out that O2 UK are in a similar boat to Vodafone and the last update we had from them was toward the end on 2019, in which the operator said via Twitter that “we hope to see it available in 2020.” We’re still waiting.

In the meantime Vodafone’s existing Sure Signal devices will continue to be supported, but the decision to withdraw them from sale will do little to help new customers who might need one. Not to mention that existing customers who suffer a hardware failure could also run into problems (arguably Sure Signal devices don’t have the best reputation for reliability).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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41 Responses
  1. Avatar A350

    Still waiting for Visual Voicemail and eSIM (for iPhone) too…I’m only on Vodafone purely for the expanse of their international roaming offering and Spotify…They really do need to up their game!

    • Avatar Bob Smith

      If you are looking just for benefit of international roaming – I just switched from EE to three a few months ago. The service is great everywhere, great customer service – and its free to use calls texts and data when traveling in 73 countries!

    • Avatar A350

      Yes but for Vodafone it’s nearly 150. You get free incoming calls in all those countries without charge (if you have a Global roaming plan) and around 70 odd of those (including countries outside of Europe) are completely free usage too with the other 70 being £6 a day which is only charged if you use data or make calls/texts on that day, it isn’t triggered by receiving an incoming call. In addition they don’t throttle their internet speeds abroad. I travel a lot (or at least used to pre-COVID), honestly, no one comes close to Vodafone’s offerings in the international roaming space in the UK. I would love to move to EE believe me with their technologically advanced network, but this keeps me within Vodafone for now. If Vodafone launched Visual Voicemail, eSIM and SMS over Wi-Fi calling, they’d have my business almost “permanently”!

  2. Avatar Tom

    Maybe bringing some attention to it will give them a push in the right direction. No way they’ve been actively working on it for 2 years it’s been on the back burner. Especially when every other major network supports it.

  3. Avatar Dave Glasgow

    There was me about to jump from 3 to O2. I won’t now I know that otherwise I’ll not be able to get into my banking website, HMRC etc etc

  4. Avatar Colin

    Vodafone don’t allow WiFi calling on PAYG either.

  5. Avatar Matt

    I had huge problems trying to get vodafone to give me wifi calling. Had been using a suresignal box for a while and eventually got them to set it up properly a month or so back after claiming it was for over a year.

    Unfortunately it was a massive disappointment. On android there should be an option to allow you to ‘prefer wifi’ or ‘prefer mobile’ signal. Vodafone lock this to ‘prefer mobile’ which means if you have an extremely weak signal that can’t actually make a reliable phone call, it will choose that over switching to wifi. It’s unusable unless you are in a location completely without mobile signal.

    • Avatar Ivor

      IIRC this is all configurable by the network operator. You could at least go into airplane mode which would force wifi calling.

      EE seems to prefer wifi in my experience – on Android I get told I’m on a “wifi call” and it glitches for a second (as it switches over to 4G) if I were to turn the wifi off. Harder to tell on iOS so not sure what iPhones do

    • Avatar Leex

      This seems to be more a phone setting (norm not adjustable)
      I actually like Samsung way they do it until I have 1 bar if signal it won’t use WiFi calling (on ee and 3 as dual sim independently of each over depending on signal)
      As I find not every router plays nice with WiFi calling so I prefer it not to use it where possible (as you can’t choose where you want it enabled or not)

    • Avatar Kaitlyn

      3 are the same. They lock out the phone setting to prefer one or the other, and they use mobile signal with only one bar.

      It’s frustrating because the main reason I wanted wifi calling was to see an increase in battery life, but it’s not actually using the mobile signal any less.

      Sometimes it’ll use wifi calling in my bathroom, but sometimes that’ll still use the regular mobile network. Either way it stays connected to the mobile network the entire time unless I turn on aeroplane mode and re-enable GPS, Bluetooth, wifi etc. And then I have to undo that all again if I go outside.

      It should just automatically turn off the mobile aerial when it has wifi! And some operators do indeed seem to do just that; not just EE in the UK but my pals in the USA get 2-3x their battery life on wifi calling.

  6. Avatar Robin Goode

    Over the last 5 years Vodafone have tried and failed to get me on WiFi calling. It seemed one had to have an Apple or Samsung.
    The sure signal was problematic at times (resets from there end) but has been pretty good for the last year. Also yes they only lasted a year or two as they run hot.
    EE here we come I guess

    • Avatar Richard

      Yes, my phone supports WiFi calling but Vodafone won’t/can’t enable it. No idea why. Given up trying. 3 is supoposed to be better but coverage is poor in the West Country so I don’t want to break down in the car and have no signal. EE was poor and O2 4G very slow. So stuck with groanaphone.

  7. Avatar spurple

    Kind of explains why EE is more expensive relative to all the others. They’re the only ones with their ducks in a row.

    No matter, I will continue to endure O2 for now, since I can get by on the mobile signal at the places I frequent. When driving, I can always fallback to the car’s built-in GPS which doesn’t require data connectivity.

    • Avatar Ivor

      Not only that, some of EE’s MVNOs also support it (notably BT Mobile), so if you want EE’s network at a lower cost then there are options.

      Mark points out that it is “complex” to enable SMS over WiFi, but you’d think that if EE/BT can do it, one of the world’s largest mobile network operators (if not the largest) might have managed it on their home turf by now.

    • Avatar Philip Chadwick

      yep. I pay £5 a month SIM only to iD, which is an EE MVNO. I get WiFi calling and SMS

      I was with Voda for years but left because it was stupid to pay for coverage that didn’t exist, and the Sure signals were expensive, didn’t cover much of the house, and kept failing

    • Avatar Michael V

      @ Philip. Hey! Just spotted your reference to The Carphone Warehouse’s ‘iD Mobile’. It’s actually an MVNO on Three’s networks.
      I’m guessing it was just a typo when U posted it. 🙂

  8. Avatar Nick

    I see the ebay leeches are now selling the discontinued SureSignals for as much as £160. God Bless free enterprise!

    • Avatar CJ

      From recent reports, Vodafone won’t enable them even if someone buys one to replace an existing one that’s broken, and if a customer disconnects one for a few months they will disable the service and refuse to re-enable it. There could be quite a few appearing on ebay and they are effectively worthless.

      Three and EE had to implement voice and SMS over 4G before they could use their 800MHz spectrum, as they don’t have low frequency 2G/3G networks to carry that traffic. Wi-fi calling is closely related to 4G calling. Vodafone and O2 didn’t have the same incentive to invest in getting it to work, and clearly decided not to prioritise it.

    • Avatar Leex

      3 and Vodafone don’t seem to be to interested in getting 4g voice working

      3 still only works on 4g800 so your phone has to drop to 3g for voice call, vodafone only seem to allow limited set of devices to work, my razer phone 2 says its registered on 4g voice but it won’t use it drops to 3g for voice

      O2 unsure (I just know PAYG is blocked from 4g voice call use)

      Networks in the uk need to get this sorted out as 3g will be stopping at some point in the future and only ee has full 4g voice support (works on all 4g bands stays on 4g when in call)

    • Avatar Michael V

      @Leex. Hey!
      Three does have 4G Voice / VoLTE over their 800mhz band. A customer must have a phone from them directly for the phone to see the VoLTE network. It is really good quality & never experienced an issue.

      The way they configured it is that the phones will only see their 800mhz VoLTE network is if there is no 4G-data and no 3G network, as it’s designed to fill in the gaps.

      Three, like the others also have VoLTE on other 4G bands in certain areas too.

  9. Avatar Michael V

    It’s also disappointing that Vodafone restricts VoLTE & VoWiFi to contract customers. PAYG users still don’t have access to the services. I asked an advisor in store this morning & they said they don’t know why all customers can’t have VoLTE.

    • Avatar Leex

      O2 does same thing (think ee does as well)

      3 only works when your on 4g800 so basically doesn’t have 4g calling for majority of the time unless you have low signal)

    • Avatar Michael V

      @Leex.
      Yeah EE O2 & Vodafone app restrict VoLTE to pay monthly customers. Plus must have a phone directly from them.
      EE do support some unlocked phones.

      Three provide VoLTE & VoWiFi to all customers. One of the reasons I am happy to be a customer with them.

    • Avatar Phil

      I suspect the restriction to Pay Monthly is an easy way to restrict the total number of customers that could connect. Each Wi-Fi calling enabled device creates a VPN back to the operators servers and maintains that indefinitely, so you can imagine the type of kit required to service thousands and thousands of connections. So if you need to restrict the use of the equipment until such a time you’ve added plenty of capacity, then quite rightly give it to your better customers.

      Another great thing that works over EE (not sure about the others) is even when on Wi-Fi calling with no signal at all on the mobile network, it is still possible to use the options on the phone to set call forwarding or voice mail options, so essentially all functions of the mobile network are available over Wi-Fi.

    • Avatar Michael V

      Hey Phil….
      I’m on Three, it’s the same here, can change call forwarding functions over WiFi with no cellular signal. Been a while since needing to change them!

      The other thing..! I don’t really agree, give VoLTE to the better customers. I don’t think PAYG should be less valued. But if pay monthly is the ‘better’ are the higher paying customers better then the lower paying?!
      Hehehe…..
      But now you mention it, could Vodafone, EE, O2 see it that way! Good to talk about these things!

  10. Avatar Name

    Despite WiFi Calling is supported by more and more devices, most of them especially not branded by operators are not allowed to use it. Also eSIM in Vodafone is available only for Apple watch at the moment.

  11. Avatar JamesB

    Im with Vodafone and use WiFi calling via my BT hub as I live in the sticks. It just drops out when it feels like it. Vodafone say its my Internet provider and BT cant fault it after having numerous techs out to the house!

    • Avatar Barry W

      Have you tried changing the DNS Servers on your phone? Worked for me! Has not dropped out since?

    • Avatar James

      Great, I’ll have to look into that on how to do it. Thanks for the tip.

    • Avatar BarryW

      I would like to give more details on my reasons to try this…

      I understand that the Wifi Calling service is very similar to a vpn connection? I assumed that for continuous connection some sort of ‘keep alive’ communication would be required?

      Some time ago I was having problems connection a web site which I had previously visited for years. It turned out that the dns I was using (a vpn provider) was causing the issue. I changed the dns on my desktop and have never had an issue since.

      This got me thinking about my WiFi Calling problem. I still had my old dns settings on my mobile as I had forgotten to change it. The WiFi Calling dropped out every day for months, often I could not get it working again. I changed the dns servers over a week ago and it has not dropped out since. Coincidence?

  12. Avatar alan jones

    Im on three,you dont need a phone bought from three for wifi calling to work. Iv got a s7 unlocked from 02, wifi calling worked as soon as i put sim in.plus wifi calling on pay as you go was a big reason for me going with three.

    • Avatar Random Precision

      I’m with EE sim only deal, bought my iPhone 11 from Currys, WiFi calling and SMS works fine which suggests you don’t need to buy the phone from EE.

    • Avatar Kaitlyn

      They have it for PAYG customers too now? That’s good news. I have a Pixel 3 which seemed to be one of the very first phones to offer wifi calling without being 3 branded. Unfortunately it still uses the mobile network 99% of the time unless I force it with aeroplane mode to get better voice quality and battery life.

      Some of my relatives are on 3 and can’t get wifi calling since they discontinued the 3inTouch app, they’re not super tech savvy so I don’t know if their OS version is too old or what – some don’t even know the model, just the manufacturer, and “it’s a Motorola” doesn’t help at all.

      But I wish wifi calling were used more sensibly, to allow the phone to stop sending signals over a mile or more and simply send everything through my router. I don’t want to have to do the aeroplane mode shuffle every time I go outside, I just want it to be more intelligent about it. There is a setting in the phone to prefer wifi but it’s greyed out for me after receiving the mobile settings when I first turned the phone on.

    • Avatar Stephen Wakeman

      No. According to EEs website, wifi calling is not available for PAYG customers. SIMO and PAYG are not the same thing.

  13. Avatar Dean

    Voda also don’t offer VoWifi to their MVNO’s (at least not to their own VOXI network).
    Wonder if this means Virgin customers will lose this when they transfer from EE to Voda laster this year.
    They really should be forced to prioritise the SMS part urgently as banks are shortly changing over to 2FA for virtually all online transactions. I’m not sure how much choice the banks have as to what options they’ll use, perhaps their apps can work to serve up the codes but I certainly don’t expect to carry a card reader; I do know SMS has been mentioned so lack of signal for this will create major issues to banking sector.

    • Avatar Kaitlyn

      SMS is also insecure for 2FA, it’s far too easy to spoof an IMEI and pick up the 2FA code before the customer it’s intended for if you’re trying to break in using their password – and that IS what 2FA is for. Shared secret apps like Google Authenticator are so much more secure than just getting sent your 4 or 6 digit code in plain old unencrypted SMS. 2FA over SMS gives the feeling of heightened security to the users who likely never had a problem anyway, but if you actually have committed people trying to break into your bank, email, Twitter; 2FA over SMS is about as useful as a wet paper bag.

  14. Avatar alan jones

    It may be where i live,(west midlands) but as soon as i go down to one bar signal on three,wifi calling just works automaticly

  15. Avatar A350

    Some have suggested Wi-Fi calling only works on Vodafone if you buy the phone through them, I’m not sure about Android phones but on iOS that is certainly not the case. I have always bought my iPhones independently of the mobile network and they’ve always had Wi-Fi calling functionality working without any issues provided there’s a good internet connection. I can certainly say that’s the case for Vodafone, O2 and EE on supported iPhones.

    • Avatar Michael V

      Hi A350. You’re right, WiFi calling will work on an iPhone for any of the four Mobile Operators regardless of where U buy it from & VoLTE, Including Three. It’s easy to push an update out as it’s one manufacturer for the phones.

      As Android has multiple manufacturers there’s different things to consider, making it a little more complex, unless it’s a Google Pixel as that’s pure Android with no modifications.

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