How to Add Phone Capability to Apple iPad

With a reliable Internet connection and an Apple iPad, you may be able to kiss your monthly cell phone bills goodbye. Using apps like FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts and Pinger EX, you can make phone calls and send text messages as if from an ordinary cell phone. Using an iPad as a cell phone may not be the ideal solution for everyone, but once you understand the technology behind these apps, you may be surprised at how simple the switch can be.

Digital tablet with blank screen
Make voice calls for free on your iPad.
credit: BrianAJackson/iStock/Getty Images

Understanding VoIP

Using any Internet-connected device as a telephone relies on Voice over IP, or VoIP, which transmits voice calls over the Internet. This technology isn't exactly new. In fact, about 47 percent of wired residential telephones already rely on VoIP services, according to a 2013 Federal Communications Commission report. If your iPad has only Wi-Fi, you need to make sure you're within range of a reliable Wi-Fi network to send or receive calls or text messages. If your iPad has a cellular service contract, you can use the iPad anywhere a cell phone works. When using a cellular service, keep in mind that VoIP does cut into your monthly bandwidth, but not by much. A voice-only call takes about 45MB of bandwidth per hour. Be aware, however, that VoIP is not reliable for emergency calls to services like 911.

Using FaceTime

Apple's FaceTime app is already installed on your iPad and gives you the ability to make free voice and video calls. You can also send and receive text messages with the Messages app. The upside of these apps is that they're both free. All you need is to connect your iPad to your Apple ID. The downside is that they work only with other iOS devices and Mac computers. If you're calling friends on their iPhones, both apps work well. For any other cell phones or landlines, these apps won't work at all.

Connecting Services You Already Have

If you have a Windows PC, you probably already have a Skype account. Installing the free Skype for iPad app and signing in with your Windows ID gives you access to free voice, video and messaging to other Skype clients. For a small fee, you can also call cell phones and landlines or get your own phone number so people can call you even if they don't have Skype. If you have a Gmail account, you can use Google Hangouts on your iPad for video, voice and messaging, with free calls to phones in the U.S. and Canada.

Getting Your Own Number

Your iPad won't really work well as a phone unless you can call people on any phone they may have and provide them with the ability to call you back on your own number. Google Voice offers free phone numbers, which you can use for your Google Hangouts app. Skype offers numbers from its website for a small monthly fee. Another option for anyone on a budget is Pinger EX. This app gives you a free phone number, free inbound calls to that number, and free text messaging. Outbound calls cost a couple of dollars for 100 minutes.