How to make and receive calls without a mobile signal

For a nation as connected as ours, the availability of a basic mobile phone signal remains as hit-and-miss as ever it was. The more remote the area, the less likely you are to get one.
Many phones let you make calls over wi-fi when there's no mobile signalMany phones let you make calls over wi-fi when there's no mobile signal
Many phones let you make calls over wi-fi when there's no mobile signal

This is especially true indoors, and there are many highly populated areas of Yorkshire where the signal dies the moment you close the front door.

With so many of us still working from home, that’s more of a problem than ever, and one that makes even a casual conversation with a colleague more complicated than it has any right to be.

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There are several workarounds to a weak indoor signal, but whether any works for you depends on which mobile company you’re with, the type of tariff you’ve signed up to and the make and model of handset you’re using. It’s a bit like a fruit machine – the cherries must all line up before you hit the jackpot.

Wi-fi Calling is currently the most reliable way of guaranteeing that you can make and receive calls inside your house. Your broadband router fills in the gap between your house and the mobile network, and for the most part you’ll never notice that you don’t have a proper signal. But not all phones support it, and neither do many of the smaller networks. Even the biggest operators have made it available only selectively.

Vodafone, for instance, lists a number of iPhone, Samsung and Huawei models as being compatible with Wi-fi Calling, but does not guarantee that a handset bought from a third party will work. Even if you strike lucky, you may find that text messages are not supported.

Assuming you can get it, Vodafone’s service is largely automatic. There is no app to download and the cost of wi-fi calls is the same as normal ones, which means you will pay nothing if they are covered by your monthly allowance.

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Other operators take a different approach, with app-based services or requirements that you buy your phone directly from them.

The budget network ID Mobile, owned by Dixons Carphone, is currently among the more flexible operators with a fairly long list of supported handsets. For around £6 you can sign up for a month to try it out with your existing phone.

Depending on your network, you may also be able to get hold of an indoor booster to improve your coverage. Vodafone used to be the leader in this field, with a £100 device called a SureSignal, which connected directly to your router to generate a mobile hotspot in your house, for your exclusive use. But earlier this year – and in spite of the boom in working from home – the company announced it was “retiring” the service and that even existing bought-and-paid-for devices would become non-functional.

Your other remaining option is to simply divert incoming calls to a landline of your choice. This can be done manually by dialing a few hashes and star keys to a number supplied by your network - or you can automate the process with a free app like Smart Call Forwarding, which can be made to kick in whenever you’re in a given location. It doesn’t work with texts, though, and you need to be within reach of a mobile signal to activate the diversion.

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But all of these solutions may be redundant if you choose to make your voice calls over the internet, using a service like Skype, Discord or, of course, Zoom. In many ways these are better than regular phone lines because they offer video communication and conference calls – but as a result, they’re sometimes fiddly to set up. Once you’re over the learning curve, though, you may find they improve your telephone manner more than a mobile transmitter ever could.

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