Why doesn't Wi-Fi calling work on the iPhone 5?

iOS 8 was released on September 17th and millions of iOS device users upgraded. That included iPhone 5 owners on T-Mobile who hoped to use Wi-Fi calling, only to find out their phones aren't supported. What's going on?

What's Wi-Fi calling?

Wi-Fi calling enables the iPhone to make and receive phone calls over Wi-Fi, instead of having to depend on a signal from a nearby cell tower. For many T-Mobile customers this is a godsend; the company's cell network does a notoriously poor job of penetrating buildings and working in rural areas, because of the GSM radio frequencies T-Mobile uses.

Wi-Fi calling has been supported by other non-iOS smartphones sold by T-Mobile for some time, but with the addition of the feature to the iPhone, T-Mobile has upped the stakes: It's begun advertising Wi-Fi calling heavily, and says all the smartphones it currently sells supports the feature. T-Mobile has even started offering a "Personal CellSpot" device — a 802.11ac Wi-Fi router especially enhanced to prioritize Wi-Fi calls — to customers looking to maximize their call quality.

Wi-Fi calling is also coming to customers of EE in the U.K. It's coming to other carriers too, but T-Mobile is the first to offer the feature.

Disappearing feature

Wi-Fi calling works on the iPhone 5c, 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus, but the iPhone 5 has been left out. Left out, that is, of the general public release of iOS 8. Because Wi-Fi calling worked on the iPhone 5, for T-Mobile customers who had access to iOS 8 betas.

Wi-Fi calling was added to iOS 8 beta 3, which was released in early July. Between then and now, Apple removed Wi-Fi calling support in iOS 8 for the iPhone 5 model. The iPhone 5 is the first iPhone model T-Mobile sold and officially supported.

Adding to T-Mobile users' frustration is that their customer service and tech support staff routinely told them both before and after iOS 8's release that the iPhone 5 did support Wi-Fi calling. In fact, I verified this: Earlier this week I called T-Mobile customer service and tech help. When I inquired about Wi-Fi calling, reps in both departments assured me the iPhone 5 was supported. There was also widespread confusion about this on T-Mobile's support forums.

Apple has posted a Knowledgebase article (opens in new tab) explaining Wi-Fi calling in greater detail. No mention is made of the iPhone 5 anywhere in the document.

Wi-Fi calling is available for T-Mobile in the United States. You need an iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 6, or iPhone 6 Plus. Your device needs to be using iOS 8 and have a Wi-Fi Internet connection.

I asked T-Mobile PR for an explanation. Here's what they had to say.

You need an iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, or later using iOS 8 to use Wi-Fi calling and texting on T-Mobile. Ultimately, each device manufacturer determines what features to include in their devices.

But why?

We're unlikely to get a straight answer from anyone on the record about why Wi-Fi calling doesn't work with the iPhone 5 in the public release of iOS 8. I am reluctant to speculate too wildly about what happened between iOS 8 beta 3 and now. Sometimes features and functionality are exposed in beta software that don't make it into the final release, for whatever reason.

What's more, T-Mobile came on board with the iPhone more than mid-way through the iPhone 5's run — Apple updated the iPhone 5 with support for T-Mobile's network shortly before the iPhone 5 went on sale at T-Mobile stores in April, 2013. (I've written before about the hoops I had to jump through to get my iPhone 5 working right on T-Mobile's network.)

I don't want to call the iPhone 5 an edge case for T-Mobile, but I suspect its population of iPhone 5 users is significantly smaller than users of more recent models which do support Wi-Fi calling.

Bottom line

As it stands now, if you're on T-Mobile and want to use Wi-Fi calling, you'll need an iPhone 5C or later, plain and simple. So if you have an iPhone 5, it's one incentive to upgrade to a newer model.

Even though you can't get Wi-Fi calling to work on your iPhone 5, T-Mobile may be willing to work with you in other ways to improve your indoor reception. They offer a 4G LTE booster that can dramatically improve reception in your house, for example — I've used one for months (with an iPhone 5S and iPhone 5), and I went from one spotty bar in the house to four solid bars most of the time.

Are you an iPhone 5 user on T-Mobile? Frustrated by the lack of Wi-Fi calling? Using this as an excuse to upgrade? Sound off in the comments!

63 Comments
  • LOL, typical Apple.
  • +1 Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Why typical Apple? Have you ever thought it might be down to the hardware on a 2 year old phone? Why not ask Google why my brand new Android phone running KitKat 4.4.4 doesn't support the cast screen function even though it displays it in the menu? Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I don't think it's the hardware. Apple does this routinely, as it dawned on them long ago that they needed to give their customers a reason to upgrade to a newer device. Apple doesn't make big leaps and bounds from year to year with their devices, so they choose what software features to exclude when they update iOS as an extra bump to get you (or anyone else) a reason to buy a new device. Admittedly, there are some things that require the new hardware, but this does not ztrike me as one of them. Posted via my Note 3
  • Here is a petition to sign: http://www.change.org/p/apple-enable-wifi-calling-and-texting-on-iphone-... If we want things to change we have to get the word out so here is a means. Also, emailing Apple and T-mobile would help as well.
  • Didn't you read the article, WiFi calling was AVAILABLE on the iPhone 5 with the beta.
  • comment deleted.
  • I have been using iOS8 beta from 1 to GM and never was WiFi calling supported for iPhone 5 .. it was never there to begin with. The post needs to be updated to include that.
  • Your phone is broken then. Everyone else had it in beta 3.
  • I think it's typical Apple more because they fail to communicate the reason why, just like they fail to communicate why MBP with Bluetooth 4.0 dongle can't do Handoff/Continuity. I thought this would be improved with Tim Cook's Apple, turns out not.
  • Sure the Iphone 5 is two years old. The only reason it was discontinued after a year was that Apple couldn't make money selling it as the "cheap" phone after the release of the 5S. So they made a plastic version and called it the "5C". The 5C has the same A6 processor as the 5 along with the same amount of memory. Yet the 5C supports wifi calling. That's why all the 5 owners are upset. No one has been able to provide logical explanation about this.
  • The article specifically states that wifi calling was enabled on the iPhone 5 hardware during beta 3. It works. But it's no longer available to iPhone 5. Apple is responsible for that, not T-Mobile.
  • I hate to break it to you, The iPhone 5c is the iPhone 5 with a new look. Hardware specifications are the same. The iPhone 5 was discontinued and is officially replaced by the iPhone 5c. The iPhone 5c was just a way for Apple to re-introduce an older phone at an entry level. Honestly, I feel that the iPhone 5 should have had the Wi-Fi Calling Capability BUT, T-Mobile never carried the iPhone 5 and it would encourage those using that model to upgrade.
  • Yeah its not the hardware, its the company, Apple has lost me forever. I used WiFi calling in beta, it worked fine. They simply decided not to add it.... I can't stand android but you know what I can't stand more, people not adding features that can work, just to try and get you to spend a fortune on a new phone that you don't want.
  • I thought that the 5C was basically the 5 in a coloured curved plastic case, so quite why only the 5C and up only supports WiFi Calling is beyond me (unless the uptake of the 5C has been lacking, so Apple thought that not including the feature in the 5 would encourage people that are happy with their 5 to upgrade to the re-moddled & re-branded version). Roland
  • It's a head scratcher. There are some difference between the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5 — the 5C has much broader LTE support, for example, and also longer battery life. But neither of those things should affect Wi-Fi calling, as near as I can tell. Another difference, as I intimated in the article, is that the 5C has always had support for T-Mobile's network, while the iPhone 5 came to it mid-stream and only after an update added AWS support. Maybe that's a contributing factor.
  • I suspect T-Mobile might have pushed for this actually.. Their were MILLIONS of iPhone 5 users on T-Mobile prior to the 'supported' iPhone 5; including me.. It didn't fully support their GSM spectrum, but it did work on some of their LTE and EDGE.. and I was talking to a rep in-store and he was telling me plenty of people still run those... Just speculation, but I think this is another 'nudge' to get that group to upgrade to a fully supported device. I could see other carriers, like in China, also dealing with plenty of unsupported devices that would as well. WiFi calling would give those users a crutch to keep using them.
  • All this is inside baseball, really. Other carriers like Verizon, Rogers and AT&T have all said they'll add Wi-Fi calling as well, and they all sold the iPhone 5 throughout its life cycle. And Apple isn't qualifying the iPhone 5 for use with Wi-Fi calling, period. I'm sticking with the assumption that the iPhone 5 produced a high failure rate or some sort of problem during beta that made Apple disqualify it from final use. But again, that's just speculation.
  • If the 5 had problems in the beta, one would expect that the 5c would have the same issues as they use the same processor. This is an apple issue but tmobile should press them for answers besides "not supported". Tmobile sells plenty of iPhones and should stick up for its customers. I am sure that they have a direct line to the engineering team at apple. If the 5c didn't support it then I could understand apples decision. But the 5c is a plastic version of the 5 so it's very irritating to iphone 5 owners to be left out.
  • Didn't Apple add support for some of T-Mobile's frequency bands to the GSM version of the iPhone 5, midway during production, when it launched on T-Mobile? Unless I am mistaken, previous to this point (and certainly subsequent to the point), T-Mobile has courted at&t customers. So there may be a significant number of iPhone 5 models used on T-Mobile, only some of which support all T-Mobile bands. If one of the key features of Wi-Fi calling is that you can start/receive a call while on Wi-Fi and it will hand off to the cell network in a seamless fashion, that might not be true for some iPhone 5 users on T-Mobile. So, rather than deal with potential customer support issues, it may be it is easier to just support the later phones. UPDATE: saw Solamar's post after I had posted and it seems his explanation is what I was alluding to, although I was thinking from a customer experience POV.
  • Peter .. iPhone 5 never had wifi calling even in beta 3 or any of the iOS 8 betas.
  • Wow, that's another reason not to go with T-Mobile! Sent from the iMore App
  • Wow, that's another reason not to go with T-Mobile!
    A bit of misplaced anger, I think. Their statement "Ultimately, each device manufacturer determines what features to include in their devices" speaks volumes. They're laying this decision squarely at Apple's feet.
  • I have iPhone 6 Plus on AT&T and have no complaints about anything, it works great all of the time with no issues. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes but you don't have wifi calling. So bashing a carrier for something that doesn't work perfectly but that no other company has is a little harsh. Sent from the iMore App
  • Ok, so enjoy your T-Slowble Sent from the iMore App
  • Why? It was Apple's decision to exclude Wi-Fi calling from the final release. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Why to you guys at iMore pad and fluff your articles so much? You can get the message across in half as long article.....or even a few sentences. Does your editor require a minimum amount of characters?
  • Then why don't you just read the blog titles and move on? Don't even read the blog itself. Win-Win!
  • Exactly what I do, most of the time. Although I wouldn't call it a win-win. iMore would loose business if everyone did that.
  • It doesn't really bother me Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm more interested to know why Wi-Fi calling is incompatible with coherence.
  • I had the iOS beta installed since beta 4 and never saw the WiFi calling option on my iPhone 5.
  • Jeff .. you are right .. the post by peter is misleading .. iPhone 5 never had any wifi calling in any of the betas.
  • Tell that to everyone else on the internet with an iPhone 5 that DID have wifi calling in the betas. People have posted screenshots of the beta vs. the gold master, and the beta INDEED had it. Stop trying to spam the blog with inaccurate comments. What are you, an Apple employee sticking up for them?
  • I have final release of iOS8 and I'm on EE and dont have the option for wifi calling will ee send me a carrier update? Sent from the iMore App
  • Yep, they should. Not sure when it'll happen, but they plan to.
  • In my short experience on iOS 8, WiFi calling hasn't been working so well for me.
  • I thought I had switched it on and didn't realize that it had manage to become switched off again, don't know how but it is did. I thought I was having a horrible experience but it was because the call came in on the worst call signal possible. I haven't had a chance to try out WiFi calling but do know that when I used it on an Android LG G2 it was clunky and would disconnect as soon as you lost WiFi because of the way that T-Mobile handled it. They have been updating newer devices to the latest incarnation of WiFi calling which handles the switching between signal types seamlessly. Something that does tend to affect WiFi call quality is the router or if you are doing a lot of streaming then, just like with Skype etc, the quality will drop if the bandwidth is affected adversely. This is one of the reasons they are pushing the New Routers and making them so available, they channel the T-Mobile Calling in the background to give a consistent experience and the router is one of the best routers for WiFi range. out there for it's price and easy to set up. If you experience is lacking I suggest you talk to T-Mobile and they will send you a Router for a $35 deposit though I suggest paying the $99 plus admin fee's and make it yours. In it's own right it is half the price of the router if purchased from ASUS.
  • On a similar note, we all know that the first generation iPad mini is basically a shrunken iPad 2, specs and all, but the iPad 2 never got Siri for the same reason... upselling.
  • Using my 5S waiting for my 6+ using WiFi calling and it works great. Take a call on WiFi in my basement office, leave the basement still on the call, drive away, call jumps to cell tower without even noticing anything happened. WiFi calling on T-Mobile works fantastic. AT&T & Verizon are getting it next year, T-Mobile beat them to it.
    I'm also getting over 45mb down on my 5S on T-Mobile's LTE with real unlimited data, no throttling and they throw in free data for my iPad mini. Very happy with T-Mobile.
  • "... the company's cell network does a notoriously poor job of penetrating buildings and working in rural areas, because of the GSM radio frequencies T-Mobile uses." Substitute "AT&T" for "T-Mobile" and welcome to my life.
    (Except for the "rural areas" part.)
  • I get 5 bars of LTE all day all the time, I live in a very solid covered area, T-Mobile in my area blows away all the other carriers in speed and coverage. I didn't shop for price I was shopping for data coverage and speed.
  • Try T-Mobile, they have a Test Drive where they'll send you an iPhone 5S for seven days of use. If that fails, there's always Verizon, which now supports simultaneous voice and data through VoLTE. No reason to stick with AT&T if they're giving you crap service where you live.
  • The work around I use is "MagicApp" in the app store.
    It lets you make free US calls over wifi and they have cheap international rates etc... The only downside for me is they assign you a number, so people won't recognize you when you call till you tell them about it. Not the big a deal, but still a pain, at least you're able to make the call! There's another called "YouRoam" which lets you use your number you call and receive calls, but they charge you a fee. S
  • I think where the real problem comes in, is how one interprets Iphone 5. In general you need to be very clear on which model as there are three. So if the T-Mobile tech was not very as to which model it is too easy for the caller to assume the wrong model. Not the callers fault, but the fault of the tech not be overly clear on it. This is a training issue for T-Mobile.
  • There was no ambiguity. They told me the iPhone 5, 5C, 5S and iPhone 6/6 Plus models all supported Wi-Fi calling.
  • If I was to be negative about it I would say that it is because Apple want people to buy a new phone even if it is just the iPhone 5C or 5S. If I was Realistic, I would say that it is because it is a model that is not being sold anymore except in the used market. Honestly I thought it may be lack of Wireless AC but then that was not available until the iPhone 6/6+ and Wireless N can carry a WiFi call perfectly well. I guess I have to slide towards a combination of both Negative and Realistic views because the Spec's for the 5C and 5 are pretty must the same, not much difference between them except for a mass of plastic. In fact if you have the ability to use an LTE Cel-Fi signal booster then select that though you have to 'prove' that you really need it. Note that if other members of the family want to have the T-Mobile Personal Hotspot router then you may find yourself in the position that you can have one or the other. They will not let you have both and they will tell you that -- contrary to John Legere during Uncarrier 7 -- you can only have a single Router and if you have a Cel-Fi you cannot even purchase the router outright at their $99 price. They will also charge you an 'Admin fee' to return the unit and tell you that the shipping is free when it is not. That's a hidden fee. Something that Legere also boasts that they do not do!
  • Apple doesn't want you to keep your ancient iPhone 5, after all, it's two years old.
  • The 5 and 5C are practically identical except for the 5C having a better FFC. So it laughable to call the 5 ancient. Apart from that and build materials they are practically the same phone.
  • Is it works on t mobile out USA? Sent from the iMore App
  • and i have BIG problem with my wi fi conection on Ipad 4 after updating 802.Conection is very bad-1 MB/s of 10 MB/s.I am verry angry on Apple. Sent from the iMore App
  • You need to bring your iPad to the Genius Bar for Wifi recalibration.
    Worked with my iPad 4 64GB. Sent from my iPhone 6+ Gold 128GB
  • Except you can't use wifi calling and handoff at the same time. If you to try to turn in handoff it'll tell you you must switch off wifi calling and vice verse (sp?) Sent from the iMore App
  • why would you spend money on a cell plan to make wifi calling. iPod touch can call people with FaceTime audio and voip apps. wifi calling for call plans is for suckers
  • I don't think you understand what wifi calling is or what it's used for.
  • I miss using an iPhone I haven't had a phone for a year :( Sent from the iMore App
  • But apparently you do since you just used the iMore app Sent from the iMore App
  • I know this is a column regarding reception with T Mobile. I have the iPhone 6+ and have problems receiving calls in my town home with Verizon any suggestions how I can improve my reception indoors?
  • There is absolutely no excuse from a hardware standpoint, even low end non LTE phones like the Nokia 521 support wifi calling. It's forced obsolescence, plain and simple, and it reeks Apple. Perhaps once a jailbreak is released a hacked carrier settings file will enable it.
  • Because Apple wants more money just like every other corporation/person. That's all you needed to say. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is curious to me. We have used T-mobile for a number of years now. And I used an iPhone 5 which I was quite happy with. Last summer we moved from suburbia to a bed town. Alas, coverage is quite spotty in new town and almost non-existent in our home. Worked with our local carrier and T-mobile to no avail to improve coverage or get Wi-Fi calling. My husband'
    s android got it but I did not. Consequently, I upgraded to iPhone 6 in December with the idea of giving the 5 to my son. To our surprise, after starting up and transferring data to my new phone BUT before passing the 5 to my son BOTH phones would receive calls via the WI-FI when I was called. Once we set the iPhone 5 up to receive my son's calls the Wi-Fi feature no longer worked. Therefore, I am pretty sure that the capability is in there but do not know how to access it.
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