On my last trip through China, I needed to make sure I was available, and in touch with home on a regular basis. I knew coverage with my T-Mobile phone would be spotty at best, and that the fees were going to be expensive, so I planned to pick up a local SIM card at the airport on the way after I landed. Unfortunately, the group I was travelling with moved a little too quickly for me, and I missed my opportunity.
Luckily for me, my service at the time offered unlimited and free UMA calling that didn’t count against my monthly minutes. UMA calls allowed a device to make calls on a wi-fi network, and seamlessly transition to the cell network if you moved out of range of an access point. I was able to connect to the wi-fi network in my hotel in Hong Kong, and call home when I needed to. (In mainland China, my luck wasn’t as good because of the “Great Firewall”.)
Today, T-Mobile no longer offers completely free wi-fi calling. Domestic calls are free, but will use minutes from your calling plan, and international calls are still subject to international rates (although lower than T-Mobile’s standard fees.) However, for your international workforce, calls from other countries to the domestic US over wi-fi are still free. This can avoid roaming charges and save a bundle for your traveling employees.
And T-Mobile is no longer the only carrier offering this type of plan. Sprint announced in February their Wi-Fi Calling plan for Samsung Galaxy Mega and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini. They’ve since added the Galaxy Note 4 as well, and are planning to roll out more phones throughout 2014. Sprint’s plan doesn’t use up plan minutes, however, international charges do apply. But if your employees have coverage problems, wi-fi can possibly fill the gap.
One other thing to note, neither of these newer options are “UMA”, so calls will drop if you move out of range of an wireless access point.
Unfortunately, if your workforce is not on T-Mobile or Sprint, currently there isn’t a US carrier-based wi-fi option. However, third party applications such as Google Voice may fill the void and could be worth investigating.