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AT&T to Launch WiFi Calling in 2015

Sarah Thomas
9/12/2014
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AT&T plans to start offering WiFi calling in 2015, but the carrier isn't as gung-ho about bringing voice over WiFi as its competitors, despite its huge footprint of unlicensed spectrum.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was the early market leader in WiFi in the US, and it easily maintains the biggest footprint of access points amongst all the carriers here, but Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T's new Mobile and Business Solutions group, doesn't see an urgent need to offer WiFi calling capabilities. Speaking Friday at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, he said the carrier would use WiFi calling in 2015, but only as a complement to voice-over-LTE and 3G voice. (See AT&T's Lurie Promoted to CEO of Mobility.)

"We're very focused on making sure it's a great experience for customers, but we see it as a complement, not a replacement," he said. "We feel good about a great nationwide network with unlimited talk and text."


Want to know more about carrier WiFi strategies? Check out our dedicated WiFi content channel here on Light Reading.


T-Mobile US Inc. just dedicated its entire "Un-carrier 7.0" launch event to talking up its voice-over-WiFi calling capabilities as a way to ensure coverage indoors and in areas where its LTE network doesn't reach. AT&T doesn't need to play that game, de la Vega explained. It doesn't share the coverage issues, and it offers unlimited talk and text on its Mobile Share plans, so its customers aren't seeking other networks. (See T-Mobile Turns Up VoLTE-to-WiFi Handoff.)

As with VoLTE, de la Vega says it won't launch VoWiFi before it can ensure it's a great customer experience with no dropped calls, which suggests it plans to implement it with seamless handoff in place next year. (See Taqua Acquires Kineto for VoWiFi Push.)

The need might be less acute, but de la Vega has seen the writing on the wall. Now that Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has announced support for VoWiFi in iOS 8, there is a lot more interest in the technology. All WiFi-enabled Android devices and iPhones have the capability, it's just up to the operators to turn it on in their networks. With "hundreds of thousands" of AT&T iPhone 6s already ordered since pre-sales started at 3 a.m. today, according to de la Vega, this could be a feature they are looking for from AT&T. (See Apple's New iPhones Have 20 LTE Bands, VoLTE.)

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) also offers WiFi calling, albeit without handoff and not yet on the iPhone, and a number of MVNOs like Scratch Wireless and Republic Wireless are offering services that rely entirely on WiFi calling and texting. (See Sprint Selects Kineto for WiFi Calling, Taqua Lets Mobile Users Talk Over WiFi, Is WiFi the New It Network? and Why WiFi-First Works for Wireless.)

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/15/2014 | 10:43:27 PM
Re: How Quickly the T-Mobile HotSpot has faded from memory
re: As soon as I leave my apartment, my phone is looking for signals to connect to – a waste of the phone's energy, if you ask me.

 

Surely this energy expenditure is minimal, though.  What kind of phone do you have?  Mind expends no noticeable energy/battery drain in seeking WiFi signals.

In any case, you could always turn off WiFi when you leave home.
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/15/2014 | 7:34:18 AM
WiFi Calling and WiFi Network Selection
It will be interesting to see the extent to which WiF calling and WiFi network selection will be linked -- the latter being the harder problem -- and how different operators and device-makers approach the problem of deciding which network to connect to. This also has implications for in-call handover, as we've dicussed on these pages over the years.
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/15/2014 | 7:25:17 AM
Re: Microcell replacement
Ianbrown -- a fair comment. WiFi has dominated femtocells at home and in the office.

Still it's interesting to note the initiatives for LTE femtocells (yes, that's back) and especially for LTE-U, which if I understand correctly, will ship with WiFi in the same silicon.
Gabriel Brown
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Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/15/2014 | 7:21:23 AM
Re: terrible
@brooks -- "on my Samsung G3" New features, means new phones.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/14/2014 | 2:15:22 PM
Re: How Quickly the T-Mobile HotSpot has faded from memory
I get why carriers want to take advantage of the spectrum wifi calling provides. The problem I have, however, is that wifi drains my phone battery. 

As soon as I leave my apartment, my phone is looking for signals to connect to – a waste of the phone's energy, if you ask me. 
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/14/2014 | 12:31:15 PM
Re: terrible
Joe,

WiFi Calling is worse than UMA was - not better as there is no switching.

I have no idea on 9/11.  The locator on the phone works best when WiFi is connected, but to me it looks like normal cell service.  I don't think that 9/11 has caught up to Wireless only folks as I think the service still assumes that there is a landline somewhere.  

As the VoLTE versus all this stuff, I was using WiFi Calling when all we had was 3G.  So WiFi calling pre-dates 4G deployments.  I have yet to see how to enable/use VoLTE on my Samsung G3 (and I live in Santa Rosa CA).  Every call drops when I leave WiFi and switch to cellular.  If I am in a location where this is going to happen (like I have band indoor coverage and am using WiFi Calling indoors)...I tell the person on the other end so they will be prepared to get cut off if I have to go.  Because of this, I have chosen the Cell Network as my preferred voice network.

seven

 
milan03
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milan03,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/14/2014 | 8:55:59 AM
Re: terrible
Let me begin saying that this is not UMA based WiFi Calling. This is fully IMS compliant which is also why we're able to handoff calls to and from WiFi environment and into IMS based VoLTE. It won't handoff to circuit switched 3G/2G voice.

AT&T is being lazy because their IMS core hasn't been updated to support this feature yet, and their VoLTE footprint is silly small. Only few areas in the Midwest. That's it. So they simply can't deploy this NExt Generation VoWiFi because there would've been many dropped calls and unhappy customers.

T-Mobile on the other hand has VoLTE deployed over the entire LTE footprint, so they're really the only US Operator in position to deploy this technology nationwide.

And lastly, Apple wouldn't stand behind something that isn't enhancing the user experience. THey've never included UMA solution because it just didn't provide that seamless handoff to cellular environment. Well, this Next Gen VoWiFi does.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/14/2014 | 7:29:16 AM
Re: terrible
I strongly suspect WiFi calling will improve over the next several years, but in the meantime, I like your idea of using it as a landline substitute.  I am reluctant to get rid of my landline for several reasons, but WiFi would probably be almost as reliable as my current landline.

How does 911/emergency calling work on WiFi calling?  Is it available?  Do you have to register your address (or do they have no clue what your address is when you call)?
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/13/2014 | 11:46:47 PM
Re: terrible
Voice over WiFi will not replace cellular.  What it has replaced for me is my landline.

I have had T-Mobile's solution since it came out - back when they referred to it directly as UMA.  Call switching between WiFi and Cellular was a dicey situation before.  With the latest WiFi calling, I have never even seen it try.  Calls that start on WiFi just drop when you leave the coverage of the WiFi network that you were connected to.  Even switching between WiFi networks will cause calls to drop.

I love the capability.  I wish they had stuck with and improved the call switching that was being provided with UMA.

seven

 
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Light Sabre
9/13/2014 | 7:37:07 AM
Re: terrible
@nasimson: Indeed.  More to the point, if the big guys don't get going with new tech, then they are subject to upheaval by a little guy.
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