T-Mobile makes Wi-Fi calling free, shops service to public safety

T-Mobile USA quietly launched a free Wi-Fi calling service, a move that expands the carrier's longtime relationship with Wi-Fi calling technology supplier Kineto Wireless. Further, T-Mobile is working to sell the offering to public-safety users as a way to ensure communications in "stressed environments."

T-Mobile's free Wi-Fi calling program, first reported several weeks ago by TmoNews, was confirmed by the carrier to GigaOM. "Starting today, T-Mobile customers can add Free Wi-Fi Calling to their rate plan--at no additional charge--to place calls over Wi-Fi without deducting from their allotment of minutes. This new feature is available at T-Mobile retail stores to all customers on Even More and Even More Plus Postpaid rate plans who have Wi-Fi Calling capable handsets."

T-Mobile in 2007 debuted its [email protected] Wi-Fi calling service, which relied on technology from partner Kineto Wireless. The effort was intended to replace users' landline phones. In the intervening years, however, T-Mobile adjusted the program from a landline replacement play into an offload and coverage enhancement technique. T-Mobile late last year expanded the service from select Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and Nokia (NYSE:NOK)¬†phones to those running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform. T-Mobile earlier this year said 5 million of its 34 million subscribers route some of their cellular calls over a Wi-Fi network, and that it plans to expand the service to Microsoft Windows Phone 7 devices.

And while T-Mobile works to expand its consumer- and enterprise-focused Wi-Fi calling business, it is concurrently working to sell the technology to public-safety officials. T-Mobile's Steve Sharkey, chief of the carrier's engineering and technology policy, said T-Mobile presented its Wi-Fi calling technology to the FCC as a solution that could ensure emergency workers can maintain communications in disaster operations.

Specifically, Sharkey said T-Mobile floated the service as part of an FCC proceeding investigating how to maintain wireless communications in areas where cell towers have been damaged or destroyed. He said T-Mobile's Wi-Fi calling offering allows emergency workers to rely on their existing devices by creating a Wi-Fi bubble of communications with satellite backhaul--an approach he said would be superior to competing offerings that use airborne base stations (cell towers in blimps, essentially) because Wi-Fi calling would not interfere with surrounding, ground-based cell towers.

For more:
- see this TmoNews article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this FCC filing

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