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Wifi calling using a mobile wifi device

I have seen a few users suggest using a mobile wifi device -- a portable wifi hotspot -- as one solution to the problem of getting phone and data coverage in a foreign country. (See, for example, the comments from Jane regarding in cell phone service .) This suggestion may bypass and solve a number of issues with keeping connected while traveling.

First, you can keep your current phone and number, assuming that your carrier supports wifi calling and texting. Just set your phone to airplane mode and then turn on wifi and connect to the hotspot. Calls to and from your phone that are to or from U.S. numbers should cost nothing additional.

Second, calls to an international number may be charged at expensive rates unless you use one of the much cheaper services that send calls over a data connection (Skype, Google Voice, etc.) But you can do that because you are using only wifi.

Third, carrying your own wifi connection with you lets you forget about trying to locate someone else's wifi, and skip worrying about whether that wifi will be adequate for you to use. (No more going to a McDonald's for the wifi.) If you are using your phone for directions, you can get directions on the move because you are carrying the wifi with you.

Fourth, most of the services I have seen will ship a wifi hotspot to you or you can even pick a device up at an airport or your hotel on your arrival. To return it, you usually mail it back in an envelope the company provides.

Fifth, the device should have the correct telephone radio frequencies to work where you are traveling. It is possible that your phone may not have everything you might need to get the best reception.

Sixth, the connections the device provides can be shared among several people so those traveling together might need only one device.

Seventh, the data limits on these devices may be greater than what your cell phone company allows and it may be at a faster speed.

Eighth, the approach is simpler than many of the other ideas.

I have not personally tried this solution yet, but I have considered it for all of these reasons. I would be curious to hear the experiences of others who have taken this approach. Did it work for you?

Posted by
542 posts

I used the Solis Skyroam for a few trips and loved it. It doesn't provide calling, but I do that via Facebook or WhatsApp. It allowed a group of us to tether to the same device and all have internet at the same time. Would do it again.

Posted by
496 posts

I'm looking at mifi's for exactly the reasons you describe. I normally just swap out the SIM in my unlocked phone - but that make my normal phone number unavailable and that now creates issues with 2 factor security and other issues.

I looked quite hard a glocalme - I liked that you could either use their data plans or put a local sIM in. However they have horrible reviews on Amazon so I've backed off them.

I'm now looking at buying a device - and combining it with an global SIM plus also buying a local sim from time to time. Its an awkard trip to stay connected - including USA (awkward for some devices) - a bunch of one day countries (cruise ports) and then time in both EU and the Balkans.

Options I've found that may work for me include brands like

For international sim cards there are a number - if I was American I'd use Google fi - but that's not an option for me

Posted by
2 posts

We have used mobile wifi in Iceland and Costa Rica with great success. We kept our phones on airplane mode and avoided the more expensive international plan with our mobile carrier and didn't have to change our phone number by obtaining a SIMM card. I've been wanting to find out how it works in Scotland, as we're going there this summer. Hoping someone else might have tried it. I was able to add this to a Budget car hire, so wanting to find out if others have had success.

Posted by
2140 posts

We have used the mobile wifi units twice now in Iceland. They worked great for us. The car rental company suggested we take it with us on hikes etc so we would have service if need be. We did that and while we didn't need service, it was nice to know we had it just in case.

Posted by
127 posts

Let me say first off, I'm a novice on how most technology works.

That said. I'm trying to understand how to use the hotspot. We do have two mobile hotspot devices that we use when RV traveling in the states (our Tmobile device doesn't currently have service, and the Verizon hotspot which is on vacation hold). Are you saying these can be used in Europe? Won't this cost us as much as using our phone for data useage, or do we change out the sim card on this device? Or is it an entirely different hotspot that we buy in Europe?

Lastly we will be in Austria, Slovenia and Croatia in May; if that matters.

Posted by
1853 posts

Please clarify as I have never used this. It is NOT the hotspot on your phone, this is a separate phone size apparatus similar in size to some power packs which you carry separately. How close does it have to be to your phone? Can it be in your purse while you are walking around with your phone using the map app?

Posted by
1152 posts

Having it in your purse is plenty close enough to work. And, yes, it is a separate device from your phone.

Posted by
17 posts

I too would like more details on what a Mobile Wifi unit is. Which ones are recommended? What settings do I change on my Android phone? I want to be able to use my phone for mapping directions in London and Scotland this summer. I have read any suggestions to put phone in airplane mode and manually turn on Wifi and hope Wifi is available wherever I am. I ow how to put my phone in airplane mode but I do not see a separate setting too manually enable Wifi. I have a Google Pixel 4A. Can anyone direct me on this? I have also had suggestions to download maps before I go. I use Google maps all the time. Does this mean to map each museum, hotel, etc I will be in ahead of time? Does that then mean if someone suggests a place I should go that if I hadn't already downloaded the directions I won't be able to use Google maps?

There is so much info out there and yet I am still confused!

Posted by
17 posts

OK. I figured out how to turn Wifi on when in airplane mode.
I have AT&T. They only charge to $10/day if I actually use it.
SO I plan to do the Wifi on, airplane mode on.
Question - will apps that update automatically still try to update, thereby kicking in the international $10/day? If so, is there a way to turn off all auto updates?

Posted by
1152 posts

The trick for turning off cellular data and using wifi only depends on turning things on and off in the right order. First, turn on airplane mode on your phone. This step shuts off your cellular data connection as well as your calling and text messaging connection. It also turns off wifi. Step two is to turn on wifi. On a Pixel 4a, go to Settings. Then go to Network and Internet. It will say something about being in airplane mode under Internet. Tap Internet and you well see a slider switch for "WiFi". Switch wifi on. You now should still be in airplane mode but have a connection through wifi (if you have a wifi signal).

These instructions are specific to the Pixel 4a with the current operating system, but the same idea applies to other phones, too.

Posted by
1152 posts

There is a way to turn off auto updates on the Google Play app I believe. I think it is a menu choice. But if you are in airplane mode with just wifi on, an update shouldn't trigger the daily AT&T charge. And I emphasize shouldn't here. I am pretty sure that is the case, but I do not use AT&T at present so I cannot say for sure.

Besides calls, you may still get text messages while just on wifi, although I am not 100 percent certain about text messages because historically those required a cellular connection, not a cellular data connection. My understanding is that they were sent over a "control" signal, which necessitated that they be short. The control signal channel was the place that contained the signal sent by your phone to the nearest cell tower to say "here I am should you need to reach me." This signal was sent every few seconds. (I think.)

Posted by
496 posts

OK happy to update this thread.

I bought a mifi unit - we travel for months so renting one is not cost effective for us. I ended up buying this one - that's just he physical device.

Then I needed a SIM to go into it. We are cruising before we get to Europe this year so I needed something that would work in a bunch of random places (Aruba, Bermuda, Panama) - so wanted a global SIM . There are a lot of them - ended up buying - not the cheapest but I liked the simplicity - you pay for what you use and data lasts for a year.

I've now had the chance to turn the device on in a different country (Fiji) - I turned it on once the seat belt sign was turned off - and had a stable signal long before we got off the plane.

Changing the SIM is really easy - you power off the unit- take the back off -remove the battery - and the slip the old sim out and the new one in. Obviously for Europe - where we will be for a couple of months - I'll get a local SIM which can roam.

On the phone side of things what you do is - first time:
- turn the unit on - you get 2 wifi networks a 2.5G one (slightly slower- but a wider area) and 5g one (faster, more compact area -though it worked throughout our large room in Fiji).
- for each phone/device/laptop etc - go to your wifi setting - find the new wifi network generated by the device - and connect using the provided password - and click "connect automatically) - that means you only have to enter the password once and the next time you power up the mifi near your device the device should connect automatically.

To use the device when travelling.
- before you leave the country change your phone settings to mobile/cellular OFF wifi ON OR turn on airplane mode and then turn on WIFI
- on arrival turn the phone on use phone as normal (making sure you stay in airplane mode ON cellular/mobile OFF mode to avoid roaming charges).

The device compared to my iphone SE is fatter - but shorter and the same width - approx the same weight. My backpack has a quick grab pocket at the top of it which is designed for liquids at the airport - I think the mifi will live in there when I have my backpack on moving around - otherwise in a pocket.

I've mentioned the specific unit and SIM I'm using - but they all work in a similar way. Some devices offer data as well as the option of using a local SIM, some don't give you the option for using a local SIM. If you are using a local SIM it MUST allow tethering/hotspotting - this seems to be an issue mainly in the USA other countries I've checked don't have the restriction.

For me its really flexible. Fiji was a classic case - prior to arrival I'd been told that I'd have to pay to wifi in our room - so I may have been tempted to buy a local SIM at the airport. When we got to the airport there was a long queue for SIMS - so we walked out - arrived at the resort and found there was free wifi in the room! . So I didn't actually need this device - but I used it to test it and to make sure I could for real just click contacts in my phone book and make voice calls to them - and I could!

Texts worked as well - even though I got messages saying my text hadn't gone through - they had.

I agree this is a really difficult area to research online (and I've done a LOT with wifi and networks over the years ). But think of a mifi as a pocket version of the wifi unit you have at home - and the sim is the alternative to the data plan your cell company is offering you for roaming

Posted by
214 posts

Isn't it cheaper and easier to just get a local SIM card with a lot of data and use your phone normally to wifi call? I just don't understand the advantages of the hotspot thing.