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EE launches UK’s first wifi calling service by an operator

ee wifi calling

UK mobile operator EE has claimed the first launch of wifi calling in the UK. The technology, which features close collaboration with Mavenir, effectively uses wifi to boost your mobile coverage, routing cellular calls through a wifi hotspot for phones that have that capability.

There has been a race among UK operators to claim this ‘first’, with EE announcing its intentions last year and Vodafone more recently joining the party. The technology is distinct from OTT calling services such as Skype or voice over WhatsApp in that it gives the router access to the core mobile network, thus treating calls as regular cellular calls.

EE is keen to stress that the benefit of this new service to people who currently have patchy connectivity at home. “Losing coverage at home is a major frustration, and wifi calling will make a real difference to millions of customers across the UK,” said EE CEO Olaf Swantee. “Our customers want to be able to call and text no matter where they are, and they don’t want to have to think about which app they need to use or if their friends have a particular third party service.”

Having said that there are a few strings attached. As calls over wifi are effectively IP calls there is no capability to hand over to 3G, so if you start a wifi call at home, then leave the house, the call will drop. This problem is overcome by VoLTE, but EE won’t be launching VoLTE until late summer 2015, when it expects LTE population coverage to hit 90%. Also the only handsets currently wifi calling enabled are the Samsung Galaxy S6s and the Lumia 640.

Regardless this is a competitive win for EE, although T-Mobile US was probably the world’s first with the technology. Somewhat speculatively EE even suggests this launch could boost some house prices, which should please readers of the Mail, but it may take a while for the market to appreciate the distinction between this and OTT calling.

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7 comments

  1. Andrew 07/04/2015 @ 4:06 pm

    Is this “first” exactly the same as what O2 launched 2 years ago with Tugo?

  2. ross brennan 07/04/2015 @ 4:17 pm

    To be fair to BT, they offered Wi-Fi calling ten years ago (including in-call handover between Wi-Fi and GSM). While the EE launch is newsworthy, it’s hardly a ‘first’, even in quotation marks.

  3. Howard Jones 07/04/2015 @ 5:34 pm

    Interesting to see the focus on the ‘first’ element of the story in the comments.

    This is not like Tugo, or any other OTT or app based service from a carrier or other service provider. This is an integrated service – integrated into the native dialler and SMS button, and integrated into the core network. A good example of a benefit of this is that you can make emergency calls on WiFi Calling, which is not possible on OTT services.

    I think the BT tech being referred to was a dual mode GSM/Dect device – is that right? In which case, totally different. But let me know if I’ve got the wrong one.

    The Kineto service on Orange was UMA – again, totally different. What’s launched today is a long way ahead in terms of the technology and the user experience.

    Welcome more comments, but I reckon we can stand by the ‘first’ claim….

    • David Young 08/04/2015 @ 3:09 pm

      Actuall, Three launched this service (called ‘ThreeInTouch’) last year, so definitely not a first for EE.

  4. ross brennan 08/04/2015 @ 8:00 am

    Yes, the original BT service was UMA, but it was a dual-mode Wi-Fi/GSM phone, integrated into the core network in the Base Station Sub-system and therefore even-more tightly integrated than the new EE service. I have never been a UMA supporter, but you cannot fault it on seamlessness or integration. The EE service is SIP-based, one would assume, with a possible roadmap to VoLTE and SRVCC, but again the service being offered by EE follows a ten-year path of fully-integrated SIP-based converged services. It is no more a ‘first’ than it would be if EE were to launch an OTT messaging app. You should have just announced your cool new service and left out the ‘first’ thing and then we’d be praising its merits rather than wasting time on arguing as to whether it was the fourth or fifth similar service to be launched in the UK.

  5. Marc Dumazet 09/04/2015 @ 3:17 pm

    wasn’t there hand-off with UMA (or another dual-mode WIFI/GSM technology) ? I thought one of them allowed WIFI to GSM hand-off.

    I believe the hand-off functionality is key to this feature’s success

    then there would be audio quality : I used Nokia’s integrated SIP for years and that was really amazingly good : they had AMR-WB (the GSMA’s HD Voice codec) standard out of the box. Unfortunately there not always easy to configure on the some of those Symbians phones but once you had it working it was seamless over 3G or WIFI. I wonder what happened to Nokia SIP since Microsoft took them over.

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