What is Wi-Fi calling? Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) or Wi-Fi calling is a completely wireless voice over IP (VoIP) service that complements voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) deployments by providing expanded coverage and service continuity utilizing Wi-Fi networks. One of the features to come out of Apple’s iOS 8 launch was the iPhone’s support for Wi-Fi calling. While there are plenty of apps that allow phone calls over the iPhone’s data connection, they don’t work with the iPhone’s native dialer. Since Apple’s announcement VoWi-Fi has experienced a surge of interest from service providers such as mobile, fixed, mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), cable operators, and wireless access providers, as well as from subscribers.
Consumers have been using VoIP for a while, and voice and video calls have been transmitted over Wi-Fi in the form of over-the-top (OTT) applications such as Skype and Viber, which allow local or international calls at minimal cost. All it requires is data — a connection to the network. As consumers, we try to conserve as much data usage as possible so we can put it to use when it is really necessary like when we need to find directions, search for a recipe, or reconnect with an old friend on Facebook. And because we are such data hogs, we try to connect to free Wi-Fi whenever possible — in our homes, coffee shops, airports and hotels. With that being said, even though we do value data preservation, the quality of the service still stands as a priority.
Voice over Wi-Fi is exactly what the term means — using Wi-Fi to conduct capabilities such as calling and messaging. Although VoIP is not new, what makes it so special now?
What does VoWi-Fi have to offer?
- VoWi-Fi offers the user the same phone number and the native dialer of the phone without moving in between applications. No more swiveling in between applications in search of the best connection.
- Better coverage — VoWi-Fi selects the best service across 2G/3G/VoLTE and Wi-Fi wherever you may be. Consumers can be confident that they are connected to the strongest connection available.
- And the best part is the call continuity, delivering seamless transitioning between networks — no dropped calls.
According to research from North Carolina State University, 70 percent of users are in Wi-Fi zones over a 24-hour period and 65 percent of cellular traffic today can be offloaded using Wi-Fi. This data builds a further case for VoWi-Fi service.
Without a doubt there is a market for VoWi-Fi. A recent Alcatel-Lucent market research conducted by Penn Schoen Berland (PBS) shows that all four participating countries — Japan, United States, United Kingdom and Brazil — indicate a significant interest in Wi-Fi calling within their markets (Japan 78%, U.S. 74%, U.K. 89%, Brazil 97%). The same research reflects an opportunity for operators to capitalize on VoWi-Fi to improve or expand their coverage area. Fifty-two percent of subscribers in Brazil believe VoWi-Fi offers a way to improve service in areas where they have poor or no cellular coverage.
Three out of four subscribers would use a secure VoWi-Fi service if it was available in their area. And many — from 38 percent in Japan to 82 percent in Brazil — reported that they would make more or longer calls over secure Wi-Fi connections. Brazil’s high percentage is probably due to the fact that they still have a large base of prepaid calling customers and see VoWi-Fi as an opportunity to minimize the use of their plan minutes when calling over Wi-Fi. In addition, Japan may just be happier with their current service overall than the other countries. Or it is due to a larger base of unlimited calling plans and their passion for texting.
With regard to call continuity, a large majority of consumers in four countries expect their calls will smoothly and successfully move from their cellular network to Wi-Fi when Wi-Fi is available. Only a very small percentage expected their calls to drop when moving between Wi-Fi and cellular networks. This is really an important area to focus on for the operators. If handoffs between the networks are not smooth and calls are dropped, trouble tickets into the call center will be increasing. Consumers’ perception (true or otherwise) is that the handoff is the operator’s problem, not the public or home Wi-Fi network’s error.
The perception of security is borderline and based on consumer experiences. Even though a high percentage of the consumers in the four countries believe there is enough security on the Wi-Fi networks (such as those outside of the home or workplace) for voice calls, security does continue to be a major concern. Consumers will not use Wi-Fi when they have concerns regarding security. For an operator offering a secure connection using Wi-Fi, this will be a differentiator.
Introducing VoWi-Fi presents service providers with an opportunity to add value to their VoLTE launches and solidify their WLAN strategies. By incorporating VoWi-Fi into their network infrastructure, service providers can also offload aggressive video call traffic onto Wi-Fi to preserve capacity for LTE data services. This increases network efficiency and frees up capacity for more revenue generating services. It also gives service providers the opportunity to reduce costs for subscribers, thereby increasing customer loyalty and reducing churn.
As optimistic as all this sounds and to get the full benefits of VoWi-Fi, service providers must overcome some significant challenges:
- Service continuity: Moving calls between 4G LTE and Wi-Fi can create service disruptions because of IP address changes. Possible impacts include the failure of call handovers between VoWi-Fi and VoLTE, the need to reinitiate enterprise VPN sessions, and disrupted file downloads.
- Service consistency: Customers expect consistency in service offerings across any network — whether LTE or Wi-Fi. Generally, network voice and video are not securely accessible from Wi-Fi today. Therefore, content may be susceptible to snooping, and the core network of the service provider could be exposed to public IP access.
By utilizing the service provider’s inherent network capabilities to offer seamless service continuity and consistent experience, service providers have an opportunity to further differentiate their offering from the competition.
Alcatel-Lucent and Motive can help service providers make a smooth transition into VoWi-Fi. To learn more about improving the customer experience of VoWi-Fi, watch this interview by Yves Tjoens, Vice President Research & Development. Furthermore, join our on-demand webinar or read our bonus white paper to discover current market research findings and trends related to VoWi-Fi.