In a world where voice calls seem to fall by the wayside in favor or texting, people continue to pick up their phones to actually talk to one another during the COVID-19 crisis.
AT&T said Wi-Fi calling minutes increased 53% year-over-year over the Memorial Day holiday. VoLTE calling minutes were up 27% on Monday versus last year’s holiday.
While the percentages are high, they’re not as high as early in the pandemic. Back on March 29, AT&T recorded Wi-Fi calling minutes of use were up 76% from an average Sunday, and wireless voice minutes of use were up 33%.
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Wi-Fi usage in general went up during state lockdowns when work, school and entertainment were all mostly relegated to the home. That’s played into a number of advocacy efforts by the Wi-Fi community, including when it comes to the 5.9 and 6 GHz bands. In April, the FCC adopted a plan to make 1,200 megahertz of 6 GHz spectrum available for unlicensed use; it has not yet acted on the 5.9 GHz band.
Even though AT&T uses Wi-Fi offload, AT&T’s public policy division was not in favor of the FCC’s 6 GHz decision. AT&T operates microwave links in the band and it said that by failing to require that new Wi-Fi devices using the band include smart technology that avoids interference, the FCC’s order puts critical communications at risk of interference.
When it comes to the 5.9 GHz band, AT&T also has suggested facilities-based mobile network operators do not need to rely on Wi-Fi offload as much as they did 10 years ago. Mobile network operators have increased their spectrum inventories, densified LTE and LTE-Advanced networks and started deploying 5G networks, “dispelling the notion that facilities-based MNOs want or need to significantly rely on Wi-Fi offload,” AT&T told the FCC (PDF).
Returning to some normal
Last week, Verizon reported that texts and calls appeared to be moving back to more normal springtime levels, with more than 776 million calls made on May 18, compared with the 800 million calls a day that were happening in April.
Verizon last week also noted that mobility increased as more states lift stay-at-home orders and businesses re-open. According to Verizon’s handoff metrics – the times when a data session moves from one cell site to another as users walk or drive around – 44 states had increases in mobility in the prior two weeks and 36% of states surpassed their pre-COVID mobility levels.
“In the spring, we often see an increase in handoffs as people move around more and volume on our networks increases over what we see in the winter,” said Verizon CTO Kyle Malady in a statement. “So while these numbers are higher than our typical winter pre-COVID numbers, they are very much in line with what we would expect to see this time of year.”