Call quality using Wi-Fi on cell phones always has been an issue, and engineers at Republic Wireless have been obsessed with refining the process to make it better. Now, they're introducing Bonded Calling, a type of "patch" that intelligently senses sub-optimal conditions on a Wi-Fi network and responds by patching the gaps in a Wi-Fi call with redundancy on a cell data network.
The patches result in a higher quality conversation without having to fall back to the cellular circuit-switched (CS) voice network.
Instead of having to hand over in every situation, Republic Wireless can intelligently choose moments to patch Wi-Fi so when it's having its problems, cellular data can fill in those gaps. As a result, customers are seeing a noticeable difference. Republic reports seeing a 75 percent reduction in help tickets related to Wi-Fi call quality since Bonded Calling started working on its phones.
As long as Wi-Fi continues to work well, it will continue to use Wi-Fi, but if it senses degradation, it will patch the call with both networks. Previously, if things were going awry, a handover would occur – but that's also a risk. It's more costly to use the cellular network, and it's also possible to drop calls during a handover. It's more efficient to patch it than switch over completely to a CS call.
Republic Wireless COO Chris Chuang explains it using a road analogy. "Think of it as if you're driving down the road of Wi-Fi and there's a pothole," he said. Previously, "you had to switch lanes to cellular to avoid the pothole. Now we're essentially patching the pothole dynamically in real time" with bits of cellular data, so that you avoid the inefficiency of switching lanes -- and switching lanes can also be dangerous.
The company has been granted more than 30 patents mostly around seamless connectivity. "I think we are the leader in handover technology right now, but even our solution is not perfect in terms of its experience, so the fewer handovers you have to do -- the fewer lane changes you have to make while driving -- we think the smoother the ride is for the customer," Chuang said.
Being a Wi-Fi First company has helped the company learn more about the nature of Wi-Fi and understand how Wi-Fi networks do odd things for brief periods of time – milliseconds – that users notice, according to Sai Rathnam, vice president of product engineering. Anything from someone using a microwave to moving from one room to another can affect the quality.
"It's another level against a handover that occurs too soon," Rathnam said. Some calls will degrade after patching, and those will then be handed over. "Certain calls can never be patched effectively, and in those situations, we fall back to circuit switched. Patching is the first step, and … we can still do the circuit switched."
Republic has an MVNO agreement with Sprint and has said a U.S. GSM carrier will be added this year but isn't naming names.
While more U.S. operators are enabling Wi-Fi calling on their networks, Republic representatives says Wi-Fi calling and Wi-Fi first are not the same thing; a Wi-Fi First model is more in need of something like bonded calling technology.
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