Skip to main content

AT&T granted Wi-Fi calling waiver, calls for investigation over T-Mobile sidestepping FCC

wifi calling

AT&T was officially granted an FCC waiver this week to enable Wi-Fi calling for its customers with supported devices like iPhones running iOS 9. Wi-Fi Calling first appeared during the iOS 9 beta period and remained functional for those who enabled it previously, but AT&T stopped sign-ups for the feature once iOS 9 was publicly released due to requirements set by the Federal Communications Commission.

While AT&T has officially turned on Wi-Fi calling for its subscribers, the carrier is doubling down on its position that rivals T-Mobile and Sprint have deployed and marketed Wi-Fi calling features for a while without proper FCC approval. At issue with the FCC is how Wi-Fi calling lacks support for teletypewriter (TTY) devices. And although AT&T has been cleared to turn on Wi-Fi calling without meeting that requirement, it wants in FCC investigation into its competitors’ behavior.

AT&T’s Senior Executive VP of External and Legislative Affairs, Jim Cicconi, thanked the FCC in approving AT&T’s request for a waiver, but sharply targeted T-Mobile and Sprint for what he described as ignoring FCC rules.

Instead of initiating enforcement action against them, or at least opening an investigation, the agency has effectively invited them to now apply for similar waivers and implied that their prior flaunting of FCC rules will be ignored.  This is exactly what we meant when our letter spoke of concerns about asymmetric regulation.

Carrier politics aside, iPhone users on AT&T with iOS 9 can enable Wi-Fi calling by going to Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling and turning it on then following the setup process. Note that Wi-Fi calling requires an up-to-date emergency address to be on file when setting it up.

Wi-Fi calling can benefit users with cellular signal strength but good Wi-Fi connections when making phone calls and sending messages over the network.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel


  1. hodar0 - 7 years ago

    While I am not a fan of AT&T, the US Justice system has a symbol that claims that Justice is “blind”, and that everyone is treated equally. It sure would be nice if the FCC would at least PRETEND that is the case, instead of selectively enforcing the laws on some companies, but not others. The only thing worse than no justice system, is a system of justice that is arbitrarily enforced.

    • fluhartyml - 7 years ago

      It seems like AT&T was volunteering for FCC regulation without the FCC initially asking them to limit from using WiFi. T-Mobile and sprint didn’t do anything wrong because the articles doesn’t mention the FCC asked anyone not to use WiFi. AT&T was being the annoying kid in class asking the teacher about the pop quiz she said she was going to give just before the last bell on Friday.

    • Mike Gates (@cmkrnl) - 7 years ago

      The FCC is part of the executive branch of our government rather than the judicial branch.

  2. Grayson Mixon - 7 years ago

    It doesn’t look like the rule was selectively enforced. Selective enforcement would have been if AT&T violated the rules and got slapped down, but T-Mobile and Sprint got away with it. In this case, there was no enforcement at all. AT&T probably could have violated the rules and gotten away with it too, but they didn’t try.

    If there are no cops on the road, anyone can speed and get away with it. The inequality comes in that some people follow the speed limit even when they aren’t being watched.

    I applaud AT&T for following the law even when they probably could have broken it and gotten away with it, but it’s incorrect to label it as selective enforcement. It is non-enforcement.

  3. taoprophet420 - 7 years ago

    I got wifi calling setup on AT&T now.

  4. TranceMist - 7 years ago

    I was able to enable it today on AT&T.

  5. Dave - 7 years ago

    It should be clarified that you need an iPhone 6/6 Plus or newer. Wi-Fi Calling is not available on iPhone 5S and older.

  6. Ken Humphlett - 7 years ago

    And Verizon acts like it just doesn’t care.

  7. TranceMist - 7 years ago

    Once AT&T actually enables WiFi calling for you the letters “Wi-Fi” will appear between the carrier name and the WiFi symbol which shows that you are on a WiFi network.

    I tested this out by going to my basement where there is nearly no coverage and enabling Airplane Mode and then turning on WiFi while in Airplane Mode. I got the Airplane Mode icon, the carrier logo (“AT&T”) the “Wi-Fi” label and then the WiFi symbol and was able to place phone calls over AT&T. That pretty much confirmed that the calls were going over WiFi.

  8. Bryan Skinner - 7 years ago

    Does this mean that if I have an ATT Microcell Tower that I’ve been using for years because of lack of coverage in my house and office areas, that I can eliminate that tower now and just use my wifi? What about handoffs when you leave the wifi area and get in your car and drive away, isn’t the ATT cell tower supposed to pick up the signal automatically? With my Microcell Tower the hand off has never worked, always resulting in a dropped call and I would have to redial. If the new system works as well if not better than the Microcell Tower then I’m in!

  9. The carriers are loving this feature. VOIP using your home network and bandwidth being billed at their mobile rates as if using their mobile towers. It’s essentially free money for them, no expenses incurred while knocking back your monthly allotment.

    • Tim Clayton - 7 years ago

      For the few people who haven’t switched over to unlimited talk and text plans both T-mobile, and Sprint don’t count calls made over wifi against your minutes as long as you are a postpaid customer (prepaid customers do lose minutes even if on wifi). If AT&T still has some non unlimited plans, I’m sure they will do the same.

  10. Gregory Wright - 7 years ago

    Would someone send AT&T a sleeping pill so it can go back to bed and get a good night rest.

  11. Ben Baker (@panifexben) - 7 years ago

    PSA: If you try to enable Wi-Fi calling on a 6s or 6s Plus that you either purchased outright from Apple or via Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, you will get the “Oops” message. According to the AT&T rep I spoke with, AT&T has not yet received the list of those IMEIs from Apple, but anticipate having it working in about 2 weeks.

  12. Jesus Ortiz - 7 years ago

    The provision for TTY features are provided by both Sprint and T-Mobile on their cellular network. This perfectly compliant with FCC section 255. On the other hand, WiFi calling is only a value added service and not guaranteed due to specific network limitations or specific phone design. Thus, WiFi calling is not part of a standard contract of network services — I am sure their lawyers will argue it this way.

    It would be chilling if AT&T’s pursuance of this FCC provision onto WiFi calling is a poison pill for network vendors in general…. Section 255 states, “In addition to covering equipment and services, the FCC’s rules require network architecture to be designed in a way that does not hinder access by people with disabilities” Does that mean we now have to provide a special sub-network to carry this traffic so as not to violate 255? I hope not..

  13. Hayden Nix - 7 years ago

    Clarification is certainly needed because I thought the same with it being iPhone 5C and up. According to the press release from AT&T, it’s not. Wifi calling is only supported for iPhone 6 and 6s


Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.