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."
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