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Taqua Lets Mobile Users Talk Over WiFi

Sarah Thomas
2/6/2014
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WiFi is an operator's best friend for relieving data congestion on the cellular network, but it's becoming a more viable network for voice calls, as well, thanks to technology Taqua announced Thursday.

The IP communications vendor Taqua LLC is launching a voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) virtual mobile core that it says provides fully integrated cellular-to-WiFi voice and messaging services on mobile devices.

A number of new mobile virtual network operators like Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless have built their business on offering WiFi connectivity-first services. The biggest hand up for some of these startups is the transition from WiFi to cellular (Scratch's calls just drop, for example) or the need to launch an app to make the VoIP call, rather than using the phone's native dialer. (See Is WiFi the New It Network? and Why WiFi-First Works for Wireless.)

Taqua takes care of both of those things, but it's not targeting its offering at these alternative network operators. Its wants to offer the platform to mainstream cellular operators looking to compete with OTT VoIP apps. John Hoadley, wireless CTO at Taqua, told us it's already deployed on a Tier 1 US operator. Though he wouldn't say which one, leaks last week suggest that Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) will soon begin offering voice over WiFi. T-Mobile US Inc. has offered a similar service for the past three years. (See Sprint Jibes With OTT Comms.)

Here's how it works: On the backend, the software treats the WiFi call like a circuit-switched 3G call, so it's routed the same, but over the unlicensed spectrum. Taqua's platform chooses the strongest signal and defaults to that network. It also uses the phone's native dialer, contacts, call history, voicemail, and SMS platform, so it happens without the user intervening or knowing.

Hoadley said this allows the operators to apply policy, track users, and bill for the call as data, instead of counting it against a user's voice minutes. It also gives cable companies a complement to their WiFi strategies. For consumers, it's a better option for indoor locations with poor cellular coverage.

Taqua plans to embed it on Android handsets, but it's also available as an over-the-air download to support older phones.

"People use WiFi anyway," Hoadley said; some reports say it handles 70-80% of all data use. "Why not bring voice over it?"

Taqua has been around since 1998 and has its hands in a number of technologies, including small cell backhaul and voice over LTE (VoLTE), but Frederick Reynolds, vice president of marketing at Taqua, told us VoWiFi is the area that's getting the most traction right now. In fact, both he and Hoadley have concerns about the operators' aggressive timelines for small cells and VoLTE, but that's a subject for another time. VoWiFi is something they want right now, Reynolds said, and the Taqua men believe that, when VoLTE is mainstream, VoWiFi will be a nice complement to it. (See More Startups Target Small-Cell Backhaul and Taqua Takes Tatara for Femto Voice Push.)

"We create a bridge between the features in a switch and IMS world," Reynolds said. "We can translate everything coming over SS7 to look like IMS on one side and SIP on the other. It's a useful transition that will last a couple of decades."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/27/2014 | 5:27:49 AM
Re : Taqua Lets Mobile Users Talk Over WiFi
Voice Servers! The age is changing from data servers to voice servers. I think it is better to use a separate installation of servers for voice over data than use existing server bands to have such an access. Also, the encryption procedures have to be different for voice (converted to token and then to digital signals) and would have to deliver more security.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/27/2014 | 5:27:09 AM
Re : Taqua Lets Mobile Users Talk Over WiFi
Line (the app) does a similar thing, no? I think it is better but consumes a lot of data. Although the technical aspect of the technology might be more advanced than Line and is more consumer focused, I think Line has been doing the voice over the wi-fi without any troubles for some time.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/25/2014 | 6:58:25 AM
Re: Confirmed to be Sprint
Another piece of the puzzle over WiFi calling at Sprint was revealed today. Kineto is working with Taqua to power the service. A spokesman says, "Kineto develops, integrates and tests the software that is embedded in each Sprint Android device to enable Wi-Fi Calling. Kineto's software redirects SMS and voice calls to the Sprint network via the Wi-Fi interface and the internet with no new application for Sprint's users to download and learn. It's all built right into the phone."

 See: http://www.lightreading.com/mobile/carrier-wifi/sprint-selects-kineto-for-wi-fi-calling/d/d-id/707905
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/21/2014 | 12:23:58 PM
Confirmed to be Sprint
Sprint confirmed its WiFi calling service today, so I think it's safe to say this is the deployment Taqua was referring to... https://community.sprint.com/baw/community/sprintblogs/announcements/blog/2014/02/21/sprint-launches-wi-fi-calling--expanding-voice-and-messaging-coverage
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/6/2014 | 11:59:03 AM
Re: OTT v. native
WarrenB - Ah, yes, of course. I should have realized you meant voice service. Yes, fewer people are using landlines, and that's a problem for cable companies looking to grow in that area (as well as telcos of course). 
WarrenB
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WarrenB,
User Rank: Light Beer
2/6/2014 | 11:48:43 AM
Re: OTT v. native
@FakeMitch, the cord cutting I was referring to relates to the cable co.'s VoIP business. Ten years ago this was a growth business for cable companies as consumers switched from legacy landline to cheaper VoIP services offered by cable companies. But now between 1/3 and 1/2 of US households have no landline. ATT and Verizon can embrace this cord-cutting given their reliance on mobile, but the cable companies not so much.

OTT television services aren't yet as mature, but cable companies have more recently begun experiencing slow subscriber erosion in that segment as well. It seems likely this will accelerate going forward.   

  
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/6/2014 | 11:26:14 AM
Re: OTT v. native
Network selection can be set by operator policy, and users can also indicate their preferences they first time the log in, ie maybe the always want to default to WiFi in their home, but not elsewhere. As for the quality question, I think that remains to be seen. Cellular call quality is nothing to brag about, and I think VoIP can be better in a lot of cases. But, it still has its fair share of issues as well.
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/6/2014 | 11:22:24 AM
Re: OTT v. native
This looks like a great service. Takes some of the burden off mobile providers' strained data networks. 

Does the user perceive any difference between voice-over-WiFi and a conventional call? Is the voice quality any better? Does the user manually choose which network to use, or is that handled automatically?

 
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/6/2014 | 11:19:48 AM
Re: OTT v. native
WarrenB - Is cord-cutting in fact a significant actual threat to cable companies? The numbers I've seen indicate that cord-cutting is done by a small, but vocal, number of early adopters. 

OTOH, I've also seen reports that cable subscriptions are flat. That suggests few people are cutting the cord, but also few people who don't have the cord are having it connected. In other words: If you already have cable you're likely to keep it, but if you're just moving out of your parents' house to the first home of your own, you're likely not to get cable. In other words: The cable market is aging -- a bad place for a business to be. 
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
2/6/2014 | 11:03:37 AM
Re: OTT v. native
Sorry, I meant that the sessions are treated as data rather than voice, but not necessarily charged that way. It'd be up to the operator how to charge. THe Sprint leaks suggested it was a free service, but Taqua didn't confirm if that was who they are working with. 

I definitely agree that cable companies would be an good target market, especially with their increased interest in WiFi of late.
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