Study: Wi-Fi calling a 'must have' for global networks

Wi-Fi calling is now a "must have" service for wireless carriers, according to a new report released by Strategy Analytics. The report predicts rapid growth in the technology in the fourth quarter of 2015.

While "the U.K. and Hong Kong have gotten to a point where [Wi-Fi calling] is the standard table stakes," the technology is still being implemented in the United States, notes the report's author, Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director of wireless operator strategies. Competition in a market usually drives operators to embrace technology like Wi-Fi calling, Welsh de Grimaldo said, meaning that, while the service is poised to become standard practice, the variance in markets leaves an exact date unpredictable.

The report found that T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has been the "leading global operator" pushing for Wi-Fi calling, but the service (along with Sprint (NYSE: S), which offers its own native Wi-Fi calling) was slammed by AT&T (NYSE: T) in a recent FCC filing. AT&T has held off on implementing Wi-Fi calling pending a waiver from the FCC regarding rules that require calling options for deaf and hard of hearing users.

Welsh de Grimaldo said she hopes the FCC acts quickly, as the waiver is one of the few obstacles in the way of widespread Wi-Fi calling in the country. According to the analyst, there is an existing base in the United States that's capable of Wi-Fi calling but has not yet been enabled.

"It's not so much obstacles for the implementation of [Wi-Fi calling], but getting it in the hands of more people," she said. She commended T-Mobile's strategy of promoting Wi-Fi calling-enabled handsets via its upgrade programs.

According to the report, the driving force for implementing native Wi-Fi calling is improved customer experience and calling coverage in areas where traditional LTE networks and other services are not available.

"Once people make an HD call to someone else with that service and start to realize the quality, they'll want to access that," said Welsh de Grimaldo. That noticeable change in service will lead to more loyal subscribers, reduced churn and even new customers, according to the report.

"Wi-Fi has to be an integral part of wireless networks," she said. "That's where we're headed."

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