Why now for Wi-Fi Calling
By Sean Jackson for Telco-OTT Today | June 30, 2014
Wi-Fi reaches the parts that other services cannot reach.
Momentum for Wi-Fi Calling services continued to pick up pace last week as both 3UK and EE announced plans for services that address indoor coverage blackspots by making use of the widespread availability of existing Wi-Fi networks in homes, offices, and an increasing number of public places.
The UK carrier announcements come a few months after US carrier Sprint announced a Wi-Fi Calling service and a few weeks after Apple announced that it would be adding the capability when it rolls out iOS8 later this year with T-Mobile US and Rogers in Canada quick to state they would support the technology on their networks.
And just last month Kineto Wireless released the results of a global consumer survey designed to characterize just how large the indoor coverage challenge is as well as understand how well positioned Wi-Fi is to help mobile operators address the problem using Wi-Fi Calling.
“Kineto is a huge supporter of Wi-Fi Calling for mobile operators. For over a decade we’ve been encouraging the mobile industry to embrace Wi-Fi Calling as a means to address several key industry challenges including in-building coverage, especially within the home,” says Ken Kolderup, CMO, Kineto. “With between 10-20 percent of mobile users in mature markets still experiencing either poor or no cellular coverage at home (while using their Wi-Fi equipped smartphones) and with Wi-Fi now generally available in those same locations, Wi-Fi Calling just makes sense.”
“Smartphone users are increasingly turning to services like WhatsApp and Skype in favour of conventional SMS and calling mechanisms, thanks to its significantly improved speed and call quality,” says Jay Karsandas, Digital Manager at Mobiles.co.uk. “The move by EE represents a concerted effort to connect all parts of the UK, whilst additionally tracking areas of poor signal coverage to be addressed and improved upon.”
The benefits of Wi-Fi are widely understood and appreciated, as are the challenges. But with the support of leading carriers and device manufacturers now evident, it appears as though 2014 could be a tipping point in the technology’s acceptance as a complement to cellular voice telephony solution. A spokesperson for EE told Telco-OTT Today the reason we’re at that tipping point now is down to core network capabilities, noting: “Being able to route calls from Wi-Fi through the core network, with carrier grade quality and security, requires IMS, which has only come to the fore in operator networks recently.”
There are other factors to consider also though. “In 2014 people expect to be able connect to the internet from their smartphones and tablet devices, and the majority don’t care to distinguish between home Wi-Fi, public Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G – they just want to be connected wherever they are,” notes David Nowicki, CMO, Devicescape. “Wi-Fi was once perceived to be nothing more than a channel to offload mobile data traffic from congested mobile networks, but it has now become an integral component in a broader strategy to maintain a consistent and reliable user experience.”
Devicescape’s offering sets out to overcome one of the major barriers to Wi-Fi usage in public environments by automating sign-on to secure hotspots. It’s a barrier that the Wi-Fi Alliance and others have been trying to overcome for the last four years with Hotspot 2.0, and a barrier that Google is rumoured to be interested in overcoming.
“I think it is bowing to the inevitable. Wi-Fi is already used as a calling solution by Skype and a number of other applications that run on phones. Users tend to like it because it reduces call charges, especially for international calls or when roaming,” says William Webb, senior, IEEE, “It is true that it can also enhance coverage in homes where there is poor cellular coverage – again the mobile operators are effectively giving in here. They had tried to use femtocells to enhance in-home coverage but the take-up of these has been limited. So it could be seen as an admission that cellular will not be the dominant wireless solution but one part of a larger wireless connectivity system involving cellular, Wi-Fi and perhaps other solutions as well in future.”
Oliver Neuberger, associate partner at Glue Reply suggests that perhaps the move is anticipatory and defensive: “If the traditional call service providers do not take ownership of this proposition and provide it quickly, we could see a time where good quality Wi-Fi is so prevalent that users simply buy a handset from a device manufacturer, such as Apple, and have no contract with a traditional CSP, simply accepting that they will only be able to use their handsets to make and receive calls when they are in Wi-Fi coverage.” This position would certainly explain the rise of so-called ‘Wi-Fi first’ carriers like Republic, Scratch and FreedomPop in the US.
What is clear is we have not seen the last of Wi-Fi calling this year. With Apple’s imminent OS update, you can bet more and more carriers will join.