AT&T: Sprint and T-Mobile are offering Wi-Fi calling 'in defiance' of FCC rules

AT&T (NYSE: T) said that it wants to offer Wi-Fi calling services on the iPhone via Apple's new iOS 9 software, but that it is still waiting for an FCC waiver on rules that require calling services to also offer options for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. In a new filing today with the FCC, the carrier reiterated its request for a waiver and blasted Sprint (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) for offering Wi-Fi calling services without requesting waivers from the FCC's rules.

"This past Friday, September 25, was the date on which AT&T intended to introduce Wi-Fi calling services in competition with other competitors in the market, namely T-Mobile and Sprint," AT&T wrote in its filing. "Those carriers have been offering Wi-Fi calling services for a significant period of time, well over a year on Android devices and for months on iOS devices. Neither of those carriers has approached the FCC to request a waiver of the TTY rules. Because the commission has not granted AT&T's waiver petition, we are not in a position to provide Wi-Fi calling services to our customers even while our competitors provide those services in defiance of the commission's rules."

A Representative from T-Mobile did not immediately respond to requests for comment on AT&T's latest filing. A Sprint representative declined to comment.

However, T-Mobile last week said that it "supports the growth of services that include letter-by-letter transcription, but does not believe real time text (RTT) is required for Wi-Fi Calling, which we have offered since 2007." T-Mobile said its RCS-based services support near real-time text and chat. "And it is designed to work across all devices, makers, operating systems and wireless providers. All carriers, including AT&T, should embrace Rich Communications Services," the carrier said.

AT&T in June requested a waiver from the FCC's TTY rules. TTY (short for TeleTYpewriter, also called a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf) was invented in 1964 and was designed to allow a user to type on a keyboard and have those tones broadcast on a phone line to a user on the other end, thus supporting non-voice conversations. Instead of the old-fashioned TTY, AT&T says the FCC should recognize RTT as an alternative accessibility solution for the deaf and hard of hearing. AT&T said it will support RTT conversations starting next year. Thus, the carrier is asking for a waiver from the FCC's TTY requirements until the RTT technology can be implemented.

"Accordingly, AT&T urges the commission to seize this opportunity to grant AT&T's waiver request without further delay," AT&T noted in its most recent filing on the topic. "Doing so will enable AT&T to offer its customers Wi-Fi calling capabilities and correct the asymmetry that today exists between AT&T and its mobile services competitors over remaining in compliance with existing FCC regulations when deploying new services."

With iOS 9, AT&T said customers will be able to make Wi-Fi calls when it becomes available. According to an Apple support page, consumers need an iPhone with AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile in order to place a Wi-Fi call; Verizon (NYSE: VZ) is not listed. Outside of the U.S., Wi-Fi calling is supported by Bell and Rogers in Canada, 3 and SmarTone in Hong Kong and EE and Vodafone in the United Kingdom.

For more:
- see this AT&T filing

Related articles:
AT&T explains delay on iOS 9 and Wi-Fi calling
T-Mobile, Apple, Google lead the way on Wi-Fi calling
AT&T still aims to launch Wi-Fi calling in 2015
Sprint brings Wi-Fi calling feature to newer iPhones, but smooth handoffs are MIA

Article updated Oct. 1 with comment from Sprint.


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