Taqua today unveiled a voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) virtual mobile core system that enables a handset to select between Wi-Fi and cellular, using the strongest signal for voice calls as well as messaging.
Taqua's virtual mobile core enables carriers to leverage residential and enterprise Wi-Fi access points as well as their own Wi-Fi networks for voice over Wi-Fi calling. The relevant application can be embedded into Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android devices and the overall system is being trialed by several non-U.S. operators over the next couple of quarters and is already being deployed by a Tier 1 U.S. operator, Taqua said.
Taqua showed off its new VoWiFi architecture.
In fact, the system sounds suspiciously like a rumored service being planned by Sprint (NYSE:S).
Last month, Android Central reported that Sprint is preparing to offer free Wi-Fi calling on Android devices under the name Sprint Wi-Fi Calling. Such a service would position Sprint directly against T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), which has offered Wi-Fi calling for free since May 2011.
Taqua representatives declined to name the Tier 1 operator that has committed to their system or comment on the rumored Sprint service. However, Taqua already plays an essential role in Sprint's small cell network, as the convergence server product that Taqua gained through its July 2011 acquisition of Tatara Systems was already deployed in Sprint's CDMA femtocell network, which uses femtos from Airvana and UbeeAirWalk.
A Sprint spokeswoman declined to discuss whether or not the carrier is deploying Taqua's system. "We do not comment on rumors and/or speculations," she said via email.
CDMA treats femtos as all-IP access points, so everything that happens between the network and the user device must be translated between SS7 switching and SIP. "It took quite a bit of development, but now that we've done it, it's actually a very easy bridge into voice over Wi-Fi," John Hoadley, CTO of wireless at Taqua, told FierceWirelessTech.
Taqua's VoWiFi platform requires no subscriber provisioning because the virtualized mobile core appears as just another switch to the circuit-switched core. The platform works with or without an IMS core.
Hoadley noted that mobile carriers planning to use Wi-Fi as their voice medium want calls to appear to customers as though they are going over the cellular network, both from a user interface and feature perspective. He said Android enables easy integration of the SIP client onto devices by manufacturers. "It's tougher with iOS," Hoadley said, referring to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) operating system.
Taqua is working on a downloadable version of its SIP client, which would broaden availability of its voice over Wi-Fi calling to more Android devices as well as non-Android devices. The vendor hopes to have that ready by mid to late 2014.
Taqua emphasizes that its VoWiFi solution differs from over-the-top (OTT) applications that require a separate user interface and often a different subscriber identity. The company's product uses the phone's native dialer, contacts, call history, voice mail and native SMS, using the same message notifications, inbox and outbox.
Voice calling over Wi-Fi is attractive to 2G and 3G operators that wish to extend coverage indoors. Lots of mobile carriers already offload data onto Wi-Fi, so offloading voice is simply a next step, Hoadley said.
"It's very similar to a femtocell" except Wi-Fi is already widely deployed in both enterprises and residences, which is not true of small cells, he added.
Further, VoWiFi is expected to remain attractive for quite some time, given that rolling out voice over LTE (VoLTE) is proving more difficult than expected. Not only that, LTE coverage worldwide only covers 10-15 percent of subscribers.
"For a long time, 3G is still going to be the dominant voice calling technology in the world," Hoadley said.
- see this Taqua release
Rumor Mill: Sprint to soon launch Wi-Fi calling
Sprint kicks off Framily, a group-based calling plan
Sprint MVNO Scratch Wireless starts offering 'free' Wi-Fi-based service
Republic Wireless to launch Moto X, new plans and improved Wi-Fi/cellular technology
T-Mobile Wi-Fi Calling flaw exposed calls, text messages
T-Mobile makes Wi-Fi calling free, shops service to public safety