Wi-Fi calling: Completing the picture

Posted on September 30, 2014

Although it’s true that Wi-Fi calling from mobile operators has been around for a while, it’s been a niche offering. Of course there have been all the over-the-top services, like Skype, but we’ve seen very few fully transparent operator integrations which allow you to use your phone number.

All the hyperbole and revolutionary claims that we’ve seen in the wake of the T-Mobile and Apple announcements aside, I think that iOS8 could be the event that pushes us past the tipping point, just by driving more carriers to embrace it so that users just get it without having to make an effort. Kudos to T-Mo for believing in it and being able to position it as a disruption.

What’s fascinating about Wi-Fi calling going mainstream is that voice is actually the final frontier to Wi-Fi’s complete domination of our “phone experience.” On the data side all the services we embrace on our devices work fine over both cellular and Wi-Fi. In iOS, iMessage made it transparent to use data for texting too. In fact, Wi-Fi represents over 80% of data by volume and 90% of data by time.

But voice remained this disconnected (no pun intended) world where you had to have a cellular connection or go OTT. I personally got stuck with having to use a femtocell to get coverage in my house, despite the fact that I’ve got great Wi-Fi there.

There’s a big difference between “everything but voice on Wi-Fi” and “everything on Wi-Fi” and the picture is now complete.

There’s a lot being said about seamless handoff but I don’t think this really matters right now; Wi-Fi calling today is about the benefit of reliable coverage while you’re indoors or static. I can handle a few dropped calls if I move (goodness knows, I get that regardless on cellular!)

There’s always a ‘but’, though: While this is going to work well in homes or offices, it’s a different story in public spaces. To truly get the benefit of Wi-Fi calling, users need their phone to connect seamlessly wherever they are; to the amenity Wi-Fi which is now ubiquitous at the local cafe, bar, library, school, hotel, airport, etc. But I can’t see users getting the true benefit (or carriers, for that matter) while they’re still having to find and log into Wi-Fi manually. As long as that is the case, there is a risk that Wi-Fi calling will remain niche.

Given the effort that has gone into perfecting the core calling functionality it seems wasteful to ignore the connectivity that underpins it.