Tagged: telephone

Wi-Fi Calling > Plain Old Celluar Service

A common sight of the smartphone era is watching people hunt for and then tether themselves to an AC outlet to charge their phones. Prior to the iPhone, mobile phones didn’t use much power because, as I’ve written elsewhere, old phones and PDAs didn’t do very much, and if you did run out of power, you could swap your battery for a freshly charged spare.

But an even older hunt is the search for a strong cellular radio signal. For the most part, I’ve been pretty lucky living in places with strong cellular reception. I have only had problems using my mobile phone when in basements: I lived in one between 2006 and 2007, and I have been working in a subterreanean office at NYU since 2010. Over the years, IP services over Wi-Fi have offered some workarounds to weak or non-existent cellular connections.

  1. iMessage has allowed me to “text” other iPhone users since that is an IP service becaue it uses Wi-Fi first before falling back to the cellular network
  2. My Google Voice number rings all my phones, including a dependable landline phone, where I can place and receive calls. It also allowed me to message friends not on iMessage.
  3. FaceTime Audio works over Wi-Fi, not only the cellular network, and has allowed me place and receive “telephone calls” with even better audio quality than the legacy telephone network.
  4. And, of course, there’s a litany of messaging apps available for smartphones that circumvent SMS over cellular.

As an AT&T customer, the last and best fix finally arrived recently in the form of Wi-Fi Calling. iPhone has been capable of routing phone calls over Wi-Fi for over a year. For example, it was available on T-Mobile after last year’s release of iOS 8. It was finally activated this year, with iOS 9, for AT&T customers using an iPhone 6 or later.

Glenn Fleishman offers an extended tutorial on how to activate Wi-Fi calling for iPhone. The process involves a few steps:

  1. Go to Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling and turn on that feature.
  2. Enter your address in the event you call to make
  3. Allow Wi-Fi Calling for your other devices.

Since activating Wi-Fi Calling, I’ve seen the “AT&T Wi-Fi” text only intermittently. It works at my basement office at NYU, where I can’t reliably access the cellular network but have decent Wi-Fi coverage. It also worked a handful of times at my parent’s house in Southern California, which has some spotty coverage, but it does not work at my own home, where I am almost always connected to Wi-Fi but have reliable cellular reception. The last situation proves that Wi-Fi Calling only works as a fallback to the cellular network.

Nonetheless, I appreciate that I finally can place and receive telephone calls from those places with spotty cellular reception, without resorting to using an IP service like FaceTime or Google Voice. Calls go through using my old plain old telephone number.

Moreover, because SMS is also routed through Wi-Fi Calling, I can send and receive messages to my “green bubble” friends without confusing them with a phone number generated by Google Voice or using a dedicated messaging app, like LINE or What’s App. Gross!

Only Losers Robo-Call

A few weeks ago, on the eve of the New York City Primary election, the campaigns for various democratic candidates robo-called me. I kept some of the recordings and posted them on this website. But I was reviewing that archive today, and I realized something. All of the candidates, whose campaigns called me, lost in the primaries. Let’s have a look.


By far the most active caller was Christine Quinn. Her campaign called me since the early summer through the day of the election. Her campaign also sent people to knock on my door and mailed me flyers just about every day.

Candidate Robo-Call Electorate Share Result
Bill de Blasio No 40.3% Won
Bill Thompson Yes 26.2% Lost
Christine Quinn Yes 15.5% Lost
John Liu No 7.0% Lost
Anthony Weiner Yes 4.9% Lost

Public Advocate

The first call I posted online was from the Squadron campaign. Their candidate did well enough to force a runoff but lost by 20 points to Letitia James two days ago. Either the Squadron or James campaigns (or both) called me on the day of the runoff but left no messages. It worked because it reminded me to vote that day.

Candidate Robo-Call Electorate Share Result
Letitia James No 35.9% Won Runoff
Daniel Squadron Yes 33.1% Lost Runoff
Reshma M. Saujani No 15.1% Lost Primary
Catherine Guerriero No 13.1% Lost Primary
Sidique A. Wai No 2.8% Lost Primary

Queens Borough President

The Vallone campaign was runner up not only to Melinda Katz in getting their candidate elected, but also second to the Quinn campaign in bugging the shit out of me. His campaign not only called me, mailed me flyers, but also used this new thing called “e-mail” to reach me. I was invited to attend fundraising events, read about his family’s scholarship fund (the original DREAM Act, as they called it), and get out to vote.

Candidate Robo-Call Electorate Share Result
Melinda Katz No 44.5% Won
Peter Vallone Yes 33.7% Lost
Everly Brown No 12.5% Lost
Tony Avella No 9.3% Lost

What does all of this mean? I don’t know. There’s almost certainly no correlation between the robo-calls and the candidates’ failures. For one thing, I only cataloged the calls where messages were left. Most likely, the other campaigns just hung up and called back later, only to hang up again. Jerks.

In either case, it’s hard to like a candidate whose campaign calls you repeatedly. Over and over again.

Robo-Calls End Today

One of the hallmarks of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has been the advent of bundling. As a Verizon FiOS customer, the double-play bundle of reasonably fast Internet (almost symmetrical 25 Mbps downstream and 30 Mbps upstream) and a fiber optic landline costs significantly less than the broadband-only service at the same speed. Rather than settle for a slower connection at a lower price, I take the “free” fiber-optic telephone.

“Wait,” you might be asking, “What’s the difference between a fiber-optic telephone line and a regular landline?” One big difference is that in the event of a power outage, your new fangled fiber-optic phone will only work with a big backup battery pack.[1] The one on my kitchen wall measures 11-inches by 17-inches, the same size as a tabloid sheet. Your old plain copper-wire telephone works if the electrical grid goes awry, which does happen, but not your trusty mobile phone or the new fiber phone.

With FiOS, you get free furniture.

As far as the benefits and drawbacks go, that’s the trade off for zero-cent-per-minute long-distance calling. Let’s call that an even swap.

But what makes fiber phone kind of a bad deal is that I still get robo-calls during competitive elections, such as today’s New York City primary election. We don’t (yet) get those on mobile phones, but we do received them on a line that is tethered by glass.

In order to get a less throttled Internet connection for less money, I’ve had to endure countless robo-calls during the last few weeks. Because Verizon FiOS voicemail will email you an audio file of your message, it has been really easy to collect some of the more memorable robo-calls of this primary season. Here are some of them.

Daniel Squadron

A common template for the robo-calls is to get someone recognizable to “call” you to discuss the candidate’s strengths and the newspapers endorsing the candidates. Here’s one where Senator Chuck Schumer waxes about Daniel Squadron, the candidate for public advocate.

Bill Thompson

My name gets me on some Latino-targeted lists, for marketing, banking, and now electioneering. Here’s Bill Thompson’s campaign calling me. Notice how it is both in English and then en español.

The message identifies me as someone with an immigrant’s experience. It mentions his family’s experience of immigrating and struggling in this new land. It also uses “community” [“communidad”] as a way of tapping into my Latino sensibilities to relate to this candidate.

Peter Vallone

Using the immigrant experience is a powerful strategy for creating sympathies between a voter and a candidate. Peter Vallone, Jr., who is running for Queens Borough President, has been aggressively sending email and postal mail. One of the latter was a flyer about the Peter F. Vallone Scholarship, which his campaign calls the city’s “original Dream Act.” None of the calls I received mentioned the scholarship, but instead mentioned his strengths as a “law and order” candidate. Here he is doing his own calling but still following the template of strengths and endorsements.

Christine Quinn

As persistent as Vallone was, the Christine Quinn campaign was the most aggressive, likely due to her well-funded campaign. The campaign called early in the summer to ask if “she could count on my vote.” They sent a high school student to my apartment to talk with me about Quinn and distribute some literature. And speaking of literature, the campaign has mailed me a flyer or ten in the last few weeks.

And, again, because of my Latino name and background, some Spanish-speaking luminaries have been calling me to talk about Quinn’s strengths and endorsements.

And pulling out all the stops today, Election Day, she “called” me herself.

Anthony Weiner

Last and late to the party was Anthony Weiner. He didn’t play up the Latino angle, which is probably wise because it could remind me about Carlos Danger and all that unpleasantness. Instead, he kindly asked me to join a telephone “town hall” conversation.

Since it was during my Monday night class, I missed it. And he called me to remind me that I bailed on him.

I’m not sure what the second call was meant to accomplish other to have me think of him. It did, and I am.

Today, I’m happy because the robo-calls should end after this primary election. Or else, I guess there’s always the run-off in October.

  1. According to Verizon’s Terms and Conditions, “Where applicable, battery backup available for standard fiber-based voice service, FiOS Digital Voice & E911 (but not other voice services).”  ↩