Judging by the calendar, it looks like Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) missed its chance to launch Wi-Fi calling by the middle of this year as one of its top executives last year described as its target. Granted, the operator also said at the time that it didn't see an urgent need to offer Wi-Fi calling and didn't make it a top priority.
Speaking at an investment conference last September, Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo noted that Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus support Wi-Fi calling. He also said Verizon needed to do "some technological work in our network to make it available," but that it should be available around the middle of this year.
That hasn't happened, however -- at least not to the extent that Verizon is talking about it publicly.
For now, Verizon remains on the sidelines. "Wi-Fi calling is an important technology we continue to explore…at the same time, our 4G LTE network is the largest and most reliable in the U.S.," a Verizon spokeswoman told FierceWirelessTech.
That's in line with what Shammo said at the conference. "We built our voice platform so extensively [that] there was never a need for us to tell our customers, 'Oh, our network is not good enough so you need to go on Wi-Fi to complete your call,'" he said, noting that when a call goes onto a Wi-Fi network, it's difficult for Verizon to guarantee the quality of service on the call.
But its rivals are touting their capabilities. AT&T just received a temporary waiver from the FCC that allowed it to launch Wi-Fi calling for newer iPhones last week. Until the waiver was granted, AT&T said it was at a competitive disadvantage because T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) and Sprint (NYSE: S) have been offering Wi-Fi calling for quite some time without having sought a waiver of the commission's TTY rules.
Wi-Fi first operators and supporters have long said that Apple's move to support Wi-Fi calling last year provided a big boost for their cause. Around the world, at least 10 mobile operators have commercially launched native Wi-Fi calling, and Strategy Analytics expects the market will grow rapidly in the fourth quarter of this year. Native Wi-Fi calling allows users to make and receive calls and texts on their smartphones as if they were on the cellular network using the phone's dialer and contact lists.
Perfecting the handover between Wi-Fi and voice over LTE (VoLTE) also has been a subject of development for a number of carriers. T-Mobile has worked on handoffs both in-house and with outside vendors for many years. In 2007, the operator launched its T-Mobile HotSpot @Home that encouraged customers to use Wi-Fi for domestic calls from their homes and the wide area wireless network when on the go.
On the network side, T-Mobile introduced next-generation Wi-Fi calling as part of its Un-carrier 7.0 in September 2014 with support for Wi-Fi to VoLTE handoffs. This year, it has been building out LTE, which will drive more Wi-Fi calling-to-VoLTE handoffs.
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Article updated Oct. 12 to include comment from Verizon.