EE will finally launch its promised WiFi calling service for 4G pay monthly customers this Friday (10th April) to coincide with Samsung making its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge handsets becoming available in the UK.
Handset support is important because EE has implemented a hardware orientated approach to Wifi calling which the mobile network operator says significantly improves performance because no dedicated app is needed to process the handoff between the two networks and calls can be initiated using the phone’s existing dialpad and contact database. The feature will also be enabled on the Microsoft Lumia 640 followed by various versions of Apple’s iPhone 5 and 6 ‘in the next few weeks’ said EE, as it looks to tie customers both to its network and specific handsets to prevent subscribers churning to third party WiFi calling apps.
WiFi calling has been earmarked as an important weapon in MNOs continuing fight against over the top (OTT) voice over IP (VoIP) services such as Skype and WhatsApp which have already built up large subscriber bases by allowing users to make IP based calls over WiFi network. And whilst EE and other MNOs are keen to trumpet the benefit for their customers, WiFi calling also gives them a way to fill in notspots and offload voice traffic onto WiFi to ease congestion on creaking cellular networks which are expected to carry increasingly large volumes of data.
EE revealed little detail of exactly how the WiFi calling service works or how it will charge for it, leaving customers in the dark as to whether communication sessions will be carried over fixed broadband and/or wireless 4G networks as an IP based call or SMS message over the data network, and whether those calls will be free or if they will be subtracted from voice minute allowances or data bundles.
02 and Three have already launched specialised apps for WiFi calling (Tu Go and Three InTouch) with Vodafone set to follow, whilst most UK MNOs also plan voice over LTE (VoLTE) services that will enable calls to traverse WiFi and 4G networks without being interrupted.