AT&T to Launch WiFi Calling in 2015

Despite its big investment in WiFi, AT&T's Ralph de la Vega doesn't see as big a need for WiFi calling as its competitors.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

September 12, 2014

3 Min Read
AT&T to Launch WiFi Calling in 2015

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

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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