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AT&T Gets Green Light for VoWiFi

The FCC has granted AT&T's request to provide an alternative to TTY text support for hearing-impaired customers using its cellular phone services. The fringe benefit for AT&T -- one that easily eclipses the value of the TTY waiver -- is that AT&T will also be able to legally add voice-over-WiFi to its mobile phone service.

T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) have both been offering VoWiFi for years. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was in no rush to also provide the feature, but once it decided to do so, the FCC rule requiring Teletype (TTY) got in the way.

AT&T has been openly irritated that T-Mobile and Sprint are both offering VoWiFi in apparent contravention of the TTY rule, but opted to go the official route. It developed an alternative to TTY called Real-Time Text (RTT) that, unlike TTY, works well on IP networks, and then finally only last week filed a request from the FCC for a waiver from the TTY rule. (See AT&T Asks FCC to Grant WiFi Calling Waiver .)

The FCC granted a waiver to AT&T that will last until 2017 or until the Commission makes a final determination on whether or not to continue requiring support of TTY, whichever comes first (the FCC's intention is to wrap up the issue by no later than 2017).

For all the latest news from the wireless networking and services sector, check out our dedicated mobile content channel here on Light Reading.

The FCC also invited other companies to file for a waiver similar to the one it just granted AT&T.

TTY works only fitfully on IP networks, the FCC notes in its waiver, and yet many people still use it. The FCC will no doubt consider replacing the requirement for TTY with a requirement for RTT or some similar technology to better accommodate hearing-impaired customers.

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

brooks7 10/8/2015 | 9:55:37 AM
Re: T-Mobile responds Sarah,

I am unclear on the use case where there is a problem:

- Using T-Mobile's service I call the TTY number to call a deaf person and the relay should work right?  The number is not blocked right?

- If a deaf person calls my phone using relay service, how will they know if I am using WiFI or not?  Nobody else knows.

Also, does Vonage need an waiver?


Ariella 10/8/2015 | 9:53:22 AM
Re: T-Mobile responds @Sarah I think it's always best to do things properly, not just go ahead and say "whoops, but it's already done" afterwards.  AT&T did the right thing here. 
Sarah Thomas 10/8/2015 | 9:44:01 AM
Re: T-Mobile responds In this case, it appears AT&T chose to jump the hurdle. It didn't have to. It could've just launched it like Sprint and T-Mobile did, but it did what was right...or maybe did it to just call out that T-Mobile and Sprint didn't.
Ariella 10/8/2015 | 9:33:52 AM
Re: T-Mobile responds @Sarah But she shows very overt favortism here to the word "silly." She needs a better terms like "baseless." One can declare whatever one wants, but facs are facts. It does look like AT&T had an extra hurdle to jump. what do you think?
Sarah Thomas 10/8/2015 | 7:18:25 AM
T-Mobile responds T-Mobile addressed AT&T's claim of FCC favoritism here at the CCA show. Kathleen Ham, SVP, Government Affairs for T-Mobile, said on a lunch panel yesterday:

"Jim Cicconi likes to say that the Commission is picking winners and losers or favorites with T-Mobile and smaller carriers. I think that's silly. What he calls favoritism, others would call competitive policy." She then added that if AT&T had its way, T-Mobile wouldn't even exist today because it tried to acquire it. "That rhetoric is really silly. We're subject to the same rgulations they are. Comission has been rigorous in its regulation around wireless."

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