Technology Tuesday: WiFi calling

My aging BlackBerry 9700 with TMobile has built into the hardware the ability to make calls over WiFi, something that’s critical to me. For whatever reason, my house is almost a dead zone for cellular coverage, regardless of carrier. I’ve been itching for a new cell phone for a while, but WiFi calling is pretty much required.

Other phones, including some (all?) Android phones, allow for WiFi calling but it is software rather than hardware. The result, I am told, is that the handoff between WiFi and cellular is not smooth, and calls are often dropped. Not a good thing if you are on an important call.

In its infinite wisdom, BlackBerry no longer makes a phone with the WiFi calling hardware. I think they bumped their heads on this, but it is what it is. As the result, I was determined to hang onto my 9700 as long as possible.

That is, until I dropped it for the umpteenth time. A few of the keys started sticking and me, being impatient as usual, decided – against my better judgement – to give the new 9900 a whirl.

I kept it less than 24 hours.

The signal strength was less than the 9700. Where I could stand next to a window and get a strong enough signal to make a call – important during northeasters and hurricanes when I lose power – the same could not be said for the 9900. My intention had been to get one of those CellFi thingees, which boost the cellular signal. As it turns out, there was not a single place in my house where the phone could grab a strong enough signal to use it.

Of course, relying strictly on cellular coverage also meant that I couldn’t read Twitter or text message, in addition to not being able to make or receive phone calls. A $660 useless device. (I paid full price for the phone to avoid a contract, because I have no desire to be under contract should the AT&T/TMobile merger go through.) Naturally, I took it back.

The last phone made by BlackBerry that had WiFi calling as hardware was the 9780, essentially the same phone as the 9700 but with more memory. I ordered a brand new one on eBay – strangely enough, TMobile only sells the 9780 without a camera – and have used it for the last ten days or so. I couldn’t be happier.

There are many, many reasons that RIM, makers of BlackBerry, is having trouble. The lack of WiFi calling may not be major to a lot of folks, but it’s a big deal to me. If they don’t include it in future phones, I’ll be looking elsewhere for my next phone.

Fortunately, that’s a couple of years away 😉

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