EE hits back at OTT players with voice over Wi-Fi service

EE signalled it is ready to fight over-the-top (OTT) voice over IP (VoIP) services with plans to launch a Wi-Fi-based service later this year, and voice over LTE (VoLTE) in 2015.

Fotis Karonis, EE CTO

Fotis Karonis, EE CTO

The UK operator said its Wi-Fi voice service will offer higher quality than unmanaged VoIP services, and that users will be able to access the service through the native dial function of compatible handsets, rather than a separate application. EE is also making SMS available on the Wi-Fi service, and said its Wi-Fi strategy will help to plug gaps in the coverage of its cellular networks.

"Our Wi-Fi calling capability will let customers make calls where they have access to Wi-Fi but not to the mobile network," EE CTO, Fotis Karonis, explained.

Karonis said the customer experience will be "seamless" because the Wi-Fi service is "the same as making a network call and uses the normal call interface of the handset," and that the service will benefit customers "in the most rural areas that don't have mobile coverage."

EE plans to begin a trial of VoLTE around the same time the Wi-Fi calling service goes live in the autumn of 2014. The test network will run on EE's 800MHz spectrum, which the company said offers greater reach than its 1800MHz spectrum.

The operator plans to launch commercial VoLTE services in 2015, "when the technology has had a chance to mature…and the EE 4G network exceeds 90 per cent population coverage", it explained in a statement.

Karonis said the trial will take place in "a part of rural Britain that has previously been unconnected" by EE's mobile network, and said the company will only launch VoLTE when it is capable of matching "our 2G and 3G quality."

Mark Windle, head of marketing at network software provider OpenCloud, said operators must be bold with their VoLTE services to win back customers from OTT services including WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber.

"To turn things around requires a fearless decision to compete--and to compete not on outdated telecom terms, but on the fast-paced, customer-centric innovative terms of modern service providers. And that means thinking not of standard 'plain vanilla' VoLTE, but aiming for something beyond that," Windle stated.

In May, EE's principal network architect, Andy Sutton, told FierceWireless:Europe that the company is also gearing up to deploy small cells as part of a heterogeneous network over the next two years as part of its plans to improve coverage.

EE today revealed it has installed new equipment on 6,000 2G masts over the past 18 months, and doubled the capacity of 2,000 3G masts during that time. The company is also utilising a mobile app installed on 500,000 handsets to identify areas where users receive no service, despite good network coverage.

For more:
- see EE's announcement

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EE has small cells on horizon, but LTE still key in near term
Operators must consider backhaul as part of overall network design
ABI: Expanding LTE coverage stimulates VoLTE adoption, device shipments
du signs up for Nokia's IMS to prepare for VoLTE

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