How to get an iPhone 11 or SE (2nd gen) to connect calls through an Airave 2.5 – and why you shouldn’t bother

My wife and I each got new iPhones recently (exactly a month ago today). We had some difficulty getting our phones to make calls initially, but that’s another story, as is the story of the erroneous double charge for the Sprint upgrade/activation (both Apple and Sprint charged for the same activation and I’d been signed up without consent for the Sprint Complete protection plan!). I think in the past month, we’ve spent nearly 10 hours combined speaking to Sprint reps for all the issues, possibly more (and there’s probably a call yet to be had to address an incomplete refund for those erroneous charges).

But I digress, so let me jump straight into the how-to to reconnect your iPhone to the Airave 2.5…

We’ll start with the assumption that your Airave was working (as in our case) with your old phone and that all 4 lights on the Airave are solid green.  There may be other steps I previously tried (unsuccessfully) before getting things to work, but let’s try the last thing that did work for both our phones (iPhone 11 and iPhone SE, 2nd gen).

  1. Open the Settings app and go to “Cellular”->”Calls on other devices” and turn on “Allow Calls on Other Devices” * (see footnote if you are unable to set this)IMG_13AA5C7F4C07-1
  2. Still in Settings, go back to “Cellular” and turn off “Cellular Data” IMG_8474
  3. With your phone within 5 feet of the Airave, using the phone app, dial ##UPDATE# (##873283#) and place the call (i.e. hit the green phone button) 91Wksc44KBL._SL1500_
  4. You will see a “service update started” message. Neither of our phones ever gave the update completed message in any of my dozens of attempts. My iPhone SE’s “started” message eventually would disappear after about a minute if I didn’t hit OK, but I think hitting OK is fine, and keep the phone within 5 feet of the Airave for that minute
  5. Reboot your phone once a minute has gone by
  6. Place a call to anyone (e.g. 555-1212 (Sprint’s version of 411)) and listen for 3 beeps to indicate your call was placed through the Airave
  7. Go back to settings and turn “Cellular”->”Cellular Data” back on. IMG_8474
  8. Still in Settings, tap “Cellular Data Options”->”Voice & Data” and select “LTE, VoLTE Off” IMG_8473.PNG
  9. Now place another call and confirm that you hear the 3 beeps

Note, if you installed Apple’s latest update (13.6), the “LTE, VoLTE” options were added (replacing “LTE” (or 4G LTE)) and the setting was automatically set to “LTE, VoLTE On”.  VoLTE is “Voice over LTE”, and it’s pretty cool because it increases call sound quality, and even better, it allows you to make calls and browse the internet at the same time, which was previously a drawback of being on a CDMA network, such as Sprint’s.  However, the Airave 2.5 is not compatible with this technology and Apple’s update abruptly squashed your ability to make calls at home (if like us, your signal strength is too weak to make reliable calls (LTE or not).  My wife could not have a conversation with our cat’s vet and calls were dropping on a regular basis.

Frustratingly, my initial 2 and a half hour support call with Sprint about this issue provided no solution despite resetting all settings, numerous ##UPDATE# attempts, and some other tricks like cold rebooting the Airave and dialing #99 (which constantly resulted in an error message).  The ended up sending me a new device called a “CASA PEBBLE LTE FEMTO”, which looks like this:

casapebble

This device would have been great for us, because it’s apparently the only one that supports VoLTE and even better, calls placed/answered using this device automatically transfer to the nearest cell tower when you leave the house (neither of with the Airave does).  Disappointingly however, the GPS antenna is not even a quarter of the length of the Airave antenna and even if stretched in a direct path from my network cabinet/router to the nearest window, wouldn’t make it half way there.  Even if it was long enough, the connector is too bulky to feed it through the hole in the floor that the Airave’s wire currently goes through on a path to the same window (so I’m not tripping over wires in my living room). So the Pebble was a big disappointment and set me back $10 in shipping.  Hopefully, they won’t charge me for sending it back!

When we first got our new phones set up, my phone initially was using the Airave.  When I started calls, I heard the 3 beeps, and I had no problems.  When it became obvious that the Pebble would not work without having to buy new furniture to accommodate the short wire, I spent a week trying to use the WiFi calling feature.  However, compared to the Airave, WiFi calling in our big house is nearly as bad as the regular cell signal: choppy calls unless you’re half a room away from the router. Perhaps it’s our plaster lath walls in our 1920s home.  Either way, we’re currently in our attic hanging out and my wife is on a call (through the Airave) with my mother in law and there’s no problem.

Shout out to Arthur and another unnamed Sprint tech support girl from Wisconsin who got me started figuring this out.  They familiarized me with the basic procedure that *should* work: ##UPDATE# within 5′ of the Airave, reboot, & test.  It was the 2 hour gap between support calls when I started a series of trial and error guesses and settings exploration.  In the follow-up call with Arthur, he explained why what I tried worked.

It’s interesting to note that my initial attempt that hinted at the ultimate solution was to change the data selection to 3G, but when switching to either 4G VoLTE setting, it still failed to connect.  I reasoned that since I know there’s no 3G signal at all near our house, I should just turn off cellular data all together and try again.

Hopefully my efforts have helped you reconnect to your Airave.  Though, by the time I started composing the previous paragraph, my wife’s call dropped.  At least, they were able to have an understandable conversation.  Back to regular operating efficiency I guess.  Maybe before the Pebble return kit arrives, I’ll figure out a way to run and ethernet cable into the basement and mount it down there!

* When I initially tried to implement the trick that had worked on my Phone on my wife’s phone, it didn’t work.  After comparing the cellular settings between our 2 phones, I saw that she didn’t have “Allow calls on other devices” turned on (and I did).  When I tried to toggle it on, I was presented with an error saying that her iCloud and Facetime accounts were not logged in using the same Apple ID.  I looked and her Facetime settings in the Settings app only had her cell number in it.  Tapping the iCloud setting on the Facetime settings page then allowed me to turn on “Allow Calls on Other Devices”.

Why you shouldn’t bother…

However, while I got this working initially, the success did not last long, nor did it seem to reliably prevent eventual choppiness and dropped calls. Within a week, calls stopped going through the Airave entirely, so I spent 4 hours running ethernet wires through walls, installing a shelf between the joists in the basement, and running the (way too short) GPS antenna through the floor to the window.  I followed that up with a call to Sprint to figure out why the Casa Pebble wouldn’t successfully connect.  That call took an hour and 45 minutes (part of the 4 hour effort). I’ve been running it for a few days and call quality is better, however there is still choppiness & tinny distortions during calls, enough so that I frequently have to ask who I’m talking to to repeat themselves.

My wife claims that her calls have no choppiness or distortions, so it could be due to a difference in our phones (hers is the 11 and mine is the SE second gen). I recorded one of the calls using my old iPhone 6s’s camera with the SE 2nd gen on speaker and you can clearly hear choppiness and distortions while standing directly under the Casa Pebble in the basement.  I even confirmed that I was connected through the Pebble (which you do by dialing *3001#12345#* and then tap LTE, Serving Cell meas, and check that phy_cell_id is anything from 488 to 502 – mine was/is 488).

So, there’s no clear win here. Whether you reconnect through an old Airave or get the Casa Pebble running, don’t expect undistorted, clear calls, even when standing within a few feet of either device.  I’m currently in the process of debugging the choppy Casa Pebble calls on my 2nd gen SE. I’ll have to decide whether we want to switch carriers or just deal with crappy call quality if it cannot be fixed.

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