During the EMEA Analysts Forum at Ericsson HQ (past week), I had the chance to attend a WiFi Call demo that really impressed me. Everybody loves WiFi today, but what is actually WiFi Call and why is that so important now for mobile subscribers and operators?
It actually bridges the gap and long lasting complaint of the lack of coverage in very dense areas and mainly at home where poor signal ends to voice interruptions. But what is new and how does it work?
Ericsson and other vendors have been pushing this service to mobile device manufactures during the past years, Apple (iPhone6), Samsung (Galaxy S4 and S5) and others to include that function in the phone. So, today the subscriber can use his “WiFi Call” ready smartphone to call over his residential WiFi (no matter the ISP) and via a seamless handover to cellular network (i.e LTE) can complete his phone call. This new service provides a seamless handoff for calls between cellular network and Wi-Fi. Same charges will apply as a regular cellular phone call but in that way the operator offers another alternative to successful phone calls in real dense areas. At his point mobile operators offer this new service as a value added service in existing programs with no additional charges and most likely that will remain the same.
During the demo at Ericsson, we used two phones, an iPhone6 roaming over the US T-Mobile’s network, using the local WiFi connection and a regular cell phone that accepted the call in Sweden. I must say that the audio quality was really good, and although some delay was obviously there, it was really the minimum, below a sec, ending up to an easy, normal phone call. Regarding bandwidth, I estimate you need about 80kbps both ways to hold a call, where T-Mobile’s fine print lists standard speeds at approx. 128 Kbps. However this service will not be ideal for coffee shops where noise and the low shared bit rate could make it difficult where HD voice (VoLTE) should sound more ideal.
This is a new service for mobile operators to compete in the Over the Top (OTT market), against Skype, Google Talk etc, where more devices need to be WiFi Call ready and cooperation with the carrier is always needed; the cellular networks should support this service. The most important though today is to spread the word and convince the subscribers to use the service and gain connectivity to the common residential dark spots.
Verizon Wireless announced recently its VoLTE voice and video calling service, but the company “said it had no plans for Wi-Fi calling,”. AT&T announced that it will roll out VoLTE soon and Wi-Fi calling in 2015. Sprint does not yet offer Wi-Fi calling for the iPhone but does for some Android devices.
As broadband speeds continue to improve and Wi-Fi becomes available on more high-end smartphones, Wi-Fi calling has the potential to become the new de facto voice option in the workplace, in roaming, even to travelers at hotels and why not to take off to a video service, as a future step. Also we shouldn’t also forget that as WiFi will be also available during flights that would be an excellent service to accept calls. T-Mobile is partnering with Gogo® Air, making it the only wireless company whose customers can text, picture message, even check Visual Voicemail at 30,000 feet.
Ericsson announced in September 2014 that is building new LTE systems in the 700 MHz and 1900 MHz PCS bands for T-Mobile and supporting the same time VoLTE and WiFi call services. Ericsson was the vendor that built a good deal of T-Mobile’s first LTE network.