Following T-Mobile’s latest UnCarrier event which focused on the reintroduction of its Wi-Fi service under the Personal CellSpot brand, this week during the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, AT&T CEO of Mobility and Business Solutions Ralph de la Vega confirmed that the carrier would launch a Wi-Fi Calling service next year, but declined to detail specifics on how the service would work.
“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.”
That AT&T is launching Wi-Fi Calling as a supplement to its existing service underscores the main difference in the approach to Wi-Fi calling that the carriers are adopting. T-Mobile is reviving Wi-Fi calling in order to fend off complaints about the lack of indoor coverage that has become a common complaint with the rush of new customers being added every quarter, while AT&T is treating Wi-Fi Calling as an ancillary service that can help a minority of its customers, such as those that lack service inside buildings or in fringe coverage areas, while still relying on the strength of its current network for voice and messaging.
With Apple announcing native support for Wi-Fi Calling in iOS 8 back during WWDC, carriers are now seriously considering their options in terms of Wi-Fi Calling functionality and availability. Sprint is currently offering its own implementation of Wi-Fi Calling that relies on specific Android handsets and firmware updates, but the rollout has been hampered by the limitations of its chosen implementation, which requires customized firmware updates with a dedicated pass-through app, unlike T-Mobile’s firmware-only implementation that works across all branded devices purchased by the carrier for sale to the public, which now includes the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
De la Vega also stressed that the service would not roll out until AT&T was satisfied with the performance of the service in terms of handoff quality from Wi-Fi to cellular, which has been a sticking point with such services in the past, as evidenced by the performance of T-Mobile’s HotSpot@Home service, which struggled with handoffs from Wi-Fi to its older GSM/EDGE and nascent 3G network before it was discontinued in 2010 due to those longstanding issues.