Fed up of searching for bars on your phone? Soon you won't need a signal to make calls and texts as EE and Three announce they'll soon let you make calls over Wi-Fi.
EE's Wi-Fi calling, which the network says will give you "higher quality and a greater degree of reliability" than third party apps such as Skype, will launch in autumn 2014. You won't need to open an app, as long as you have a compatible phone -- you just dial as normal and the phone does the work.
To enjoy that benefit you will need a device that supports IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) technology -- but the advantage is that because it involves transmitting over the Internet, you could make calls on a device that isn't a phone, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.
EE was the UK's first 4G network in 2012, having been formed in a merger between Orange and T-Mobile two years earlier. Orange and T-Mobile continue as 3G networks. After a year-long head-start as a 4G LTE network, EE has been joined by O2, Vodafone and Three. Those rivals are still behind in coverage terms, however, and offer assorted perks such as free Spotify or Sky subscriptions to tempt 4G customers.
Meanwhile Three is getting in on the Wi-Fi calling game with a new app called inTouch. The app enables you to make and receive calls and send and receive texts over Wi-Fi rather than over the regular 3G network. It's free and will be available in early August.
All Three customers can use the app, whether on a phone contract, on SIM-only and on pay-as-you-go.
inTouch is designed to improve your signal rather than save you money, because each call and text made over Wi-Fi counts against your regular monthly allowance or prepaid credit for calls and texts. Three relies on 3G frequency, so Three's signal isn't as wide-ranging as rival networks that have 2G signal largely filling in the gaps their 3G airwaves can't reach. With the new app, you can still make calls and texts even if you don't have a signal.
O2 already has a similar app, called Tu Go, for calling and texting from a tablet or PC.
EE has also announced a trial of 4G calls -- known as voice over LTE (VoLTE) -- in rural Oxfordshire, using EE's low frequency 800MHz spectrum for the first time. Lower frequencies reach further so could be better suited to remote areas than higher frequencies.
The 4G calling trial will launch at some point in 2015.
EE says it is investing £275 million in voice capabilities. 6,000 2G masts and network sites will be upgraded, and capacity will be increased on 2,000 3G sites.