This guest post was written by Arvind Rangarajan, Director, Vertical Solutions & Market Offers, Broadsoft
The sheer number of Wi-Fi connected devices is growing at a phenomenal rate, and Wi-Fi is fast becoming the preferred method of connection – at least two thirds of consumers today prefer connecting over Wi-Fi as opposed to cellular, mostly due to cost and performance.
Mobile operators have been increasingly turning to Wi-Fi offloading as a cost-effective way to manage data capacity, and that trend continues. Many analysts are forecasting a steady annual increase in carrier hotspots to more than 7 million by the end of 2015. (Source: ABI Research)
However, data offload is just the tip of the iceberg. The real reason many carriers are out there securing hotspot locations and launching services is competition for new revenue opportunities, from both incumbents and “over-the-top” (OTT) players alike.
VoWiFi Heats Up
Wi-Fi calling has been around for a long time, in the form of OTT applications such as Skype (now Microsoft) and other initiatives such as UMA and femtocells. However, Apple’s recent decision to support Wi-Fi calling with the launch of iOS8 and the subsequent launch of the iPhone 6 really boosted the explosion of interest in VoWiFi.
T-Mobile was the first US carrier to jump on the Apple bandwagon, having first offered Wi-Fi calling to their customers on Google Android and Microsoft Windows phones. Today, T-Mobile reportedly has the most calls made over Wi-Fi than any other service provider.
Sprint started out with Wi-Fi calling on Android only, but in April 2015 launched VoWiFi on the iPhone, prompting Verizon and AT&T to announce that they would follow suit. Still others, such as Scratch Wireless and Republic Wireless, offer Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi first services respectively, based on specific Android devices that the user must purchase directly from the provider.
And last not but least, we have Google’s move into MVNO territory with the announcement of Project Fi, based on the Google Nexus 6 device only, but which dynamically moves users between the fastest available networks (Wi-Fi and cellular).
VoWiFi Benefits for Subscribers
Nearly all cellular coverage deployed today is delivered with high frequency macro systems that work well outdoors, but that has significant coverage issues indoors and in densely populated areas. When it comes to voice services, one of the biggest complaints from subscribers today is poor coverage, resulting in customer dissatisfaction and ultimately customer churn.
Subscriber benefits include:
- Fewer dropped calls / better experience
- Lower data costs
- Increased performance for high bandwidth apps such as video
- The ability to use multiple different devices (e.g. tablets and laptops)
- Minimizes international roaming charges
VoWiFi Benefits for Carriers
As more and more device manufacturers start to deliver Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, carriers have access to some huge advantages over OTT providers. Not only do many OTTs struggle to maintain call connection when the user moves from Wi-Fi to cellular, but they often require the user to download a separate app, use a separate dialer interface, and make the call using a different phone number.
True “next-generation” Wi-Fi calling consists of a totally seamless user experience, where users can keep their existing phone number, use the native dialing capability on the device of their choice, and move between Wi-Fi and cellular networks without any interruption to the call. The ability to provide carrier-grade Wi-Fi that includes assured quality of service is also becoming a reality with new standards, spectrum options and better devices.
Operator benefits include:
- Lowers customer churn with an improved experience
- Improves customer retention as users shift away from landlines
- Extends coverage and therefore connection time
- Less expensive than other solutions e.g. femtocell
- Differentiation in a heavily competitive segment
- Leverage existing VoLTE IMS investments to build out VoWiFi capability
Wi-Fi is everywhere, and users prefer it both at home and at work for both performance and cost reasons. The availability of smartphones with Wi-Fi calling capabilities, coupled with the fact that cellular networks are having an increasingly harder time penetrating modern buildings, has driven carriers of all kinds to take a closer look at VoWiFi.
Although VoWiFi has been available for many years, it shouldn’t be confused with next-generation Wi-Fi calling, which offers VoWiFi and Voice over LTE (VoLTE) support natively integrated in the smartphone dialer. Seamless handover between networks, along with “carrier-grade Wi-Fi” that provides for assured quality of service, are all considered important and strategic plays for carriers looking to excel in this area.
There’s no question that the Wi-Fi market is evolving rapidly, and that VoWiFi is an important element. Wireline, mobile and pure-play providers are all investigating a wide variety of VoWiFi business models, looking to leverage the many advances in devices and networks that are starting to be made available.
If you liked this post and are looking for additional information on the Wi-Fi market, we recommend the Wireless Broadband Alliance report Carrier Wi-Fi: State of the Market 2014.