Sprint (NYSE:S) launched a Wi-Fi calling service on two Android smartphones and pledged to add support for more devices this year. The launch will pit Sprint against T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), which has offered first-party Wi-Fi calling for years.
The Samsung Galaxy Mega will be the first of two devices to access Sprint's new Wi-Fi calling service.
Sprint said that customers using the Samsung Electronics Galaxy Mega and Samsung Galaxy S4 mini will be the first to access to the service after installing an over-the-air update. The update notification will be pushed automatically to Galaxy S4 mini and Mega users during the next few weeks. In January, Android Central reported that those would be the first two devices to access Sprint's rumored Wi-Fi calling service.
Sprint spokeswoman Natalie Papaj told FierceWireless that the carrier expects to add Wi-Fi calling support to more devices via over-the-air updates in the coming months. "We plan to launch our first devices with Wi-Fi calling enabled out-of-box later this year," she said.
Papaj said that right now Wi-Fi calling only works on Android phones. "In order to provide the customer with a seamless experience, Wi-Fi calling is deeply embedded into the handset," she said. "This is currently only possible on Android devices."
The underlying technology is an embedded Kineto client and technology from Taqua.
In a blog post, the company touted the benefits of Wi-Fi calling, including enhanced coverage, easy setup and unlimited voice calling and messaging over Wi-Fi, since all domestic calling and messaging is free (standard CDMA international rates will apply for international calls). Sprint said its customers "will experience improved voice, data and messaging services in locations that previously had limited or no mobile network coverage." The service will be available via a Wi-Fi calling icon on a user's phone.
T-Mobile has offered Wi-Fi calling for free since May 2011. The offering from Sprint is notable in light of the fact that Sprint supports multiple MVNOs that have a Wi-Fi-first business model, including Republic Wireless and Scratch Wireless.
Sprint's LTE network now covers 200 million POPs, but has consistently been rated by third-party research firms as the slowest of the Tier 1 carriers. So adding Wi-Fi calling could potentially enhance data services in areas where Sprint's LTE network has not yet been deployed.
Sprint's new Wi-Fi calling service will sit alongside the company's femtocell offering. Sprint's Airave femtocell, which the carrier has been selling since 2008, allows users to create a house-sized bubble of wireless service that transmits cellular communications through a user's personal wired Internet connection. The product is primarily intended for users who cannot access Sprint's network and wish to bring the carrier's services into their home or office.
Sprint in October 2012 announced it has shipped more than 1 million femtocells.
- see this Sprint page
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Article updated Feb. 23 with additional information from Sprint.