Vodafone, EE race to be first to launch Wi-Fi calling in UK

Vodafone UK plans to offer commercial voice services over Wi-Fi and LTE networks from this summer, as the operator vies with rivals to be first to market with services designed to improve the availability and quality of voice calls over mobile data networks.

The UK operator said it has been testing both Wi-Fi calling and voice over LTE (VoLTE) in its network laboratory for several months, and intends to start VoLTE user trials now ahead of the service's commercial launch.

VoLTE allows voice calls to be carried over a 4G network rather than relying on 2G and 3G services. Wi-Fi calling, on the other hand, uses an existing Wi-Fi service to automatically provide customers with a voice signal without the need to go through an app.

Vodafone noted that Wi-Fi calling is particularly suited to customers living in areas where network coverage is limited or where it is difficult to get an indoor signal.

"Our Wi-Fi Calling service will ensure that our customers never miss a call. It is another important step towards our commitment to build the UK's strongest converged network," said Vodafone UK CEO Jeroen Hoencamp.

The operator added that the rollout of Wi-Fi calling and VoLTE are part of the £1 billion (€1.4 billion/$1.5 billion) that Vodafone is currently spending on its network and services across the UK.

EE has also previously revealed plans to offer Wi-Fi-based voice services and still intends to be the first in the UK to offer Wi-Fi calling when the Lumia 640 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 become available on the EE network from Apr. 7 and Apr. 10 respectively.

"We definitely still plan to beat Vodafone to the punch," said an EE spokesman, noting that the Wi-Fi calling service should also be launching on Apple iOS devices "next month". The operator was named as Apple's Wi-Fi calling partner for the UK when the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were unveiled last year.

EE, which is currently in the process of being acquired by BT, also intends to offer VoLTE services from this summer, but has not provided any further updates on the timing of the launch.

In contrast to the EE and Vodafone services, which both look like they will be integrated into the primary phone dialler, rival operator Three UK last year launched an app called Three inTouch, which allows customers to talk and text using a Wi-Fi connection on their usual Three UK phone number.

At the end of November last year, ABI Research noted that the increasing appetite for Carrier Wi-Fi solutions would result in revenues growing to nearly $8 billion (€7.5 billion) by 2019.

In January, the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) said 80 operators in 42 countries--more than 22 per cent of operators--are investing in VoLTE deployments, studies or trials, with 14 operators having launched HD voice service using VoLTE in seven countries.

For more:
- see this Vodafone release

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