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Wi-Fi calling coming to iPhones in iOS 8, with T-Mobile's support

Is this really as big a deal as T-Mobile thinks?

June 3, 2014 03:41 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple's new iOS 8 will support Wi-Fi calling when the version launches in the fall, and T-Mobile US was quick to say on Monday it will support the feature on its customers' iPhones.

T-Mobile was the first U.S. wireless carrier to enable Wi-Fi calling, way back in 2007, on its Android and Windows smartphones, according to a blog posted by T-Mobile's Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert.

Like T-Mobile, Sprint also has Wi-Fi calling, which can be used when no cellular signal is available. When the nationwide carriers were asked on Tuesday whether they would support Wi-Fi calling in iOS 8 devices, Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Debra Lewis responded, "I'm not going to speculate on what might be offered in the future on our nationwide network, and we don't offer Wi-Fi calling currently."

Sprint hasn't made any announcements about Wi-Fi calling for the iPhone, spokesman Mark Elliott said. Sprint has five smartphones with the feature included, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, and plans to expand Wi-Fi calling to more devices in 2014, he said. AT&T didn't respond to a request for comment.

The advantages of Wi-Fi calling would seem to include not having to pay the cellular service cost for a voice call, although T-Mobile counts voice over IP (VoiP) minutes using Wi-Fi calling as minutes against your service plan, according to Jack Gold, an analyst with J. Gold Associates who uses T-Mobile service. "Data is different, but voice is not free with Wi-Fi calling," he said. "You don't really save anything, as the carrier still counts VoIP minutes against your plan."

T-Mobile noted in a fact sheet on Monday that it doesn't charge any additional service charges for Wi-Fi calling. The carrier also noted that customers don't have to integrate another app, such as Skype, and can use their existing phone number. To carriers, the service can reduce the load on their cellular networks.

Gold said he uses the VoIP feature in his T-Mobile phone all the time at home because his cellular coverage is so poor. "The biggest benefit to Wi-Fi calling is for users who have poor carrier coverage," he said.

Given that, is Apple's support for Wi-Fi calling a big deal, at least as big as T-Mobile says it is? Or is it just one of many features coming in iOS 8 that Apple didn't have time to highlight in its two-hour keynote at its WWDC?

Apple flashed a slide of 32 hidden features in iOS 8 that it didn't take time talk about in the keynote. The features include items such as Wi-Fi calling, along with a Braille keyboard, support for Made for iPhone hearing aids and much more.

Some Apple critics quickly said Apple was trying to hide that it hasn't had Wi-Fi calling for years after Android and Windows Phone. Others said Wi-Fi calling isn't as important as Swift, a new programming language and many other announcements Apple made.

What Apple will offer with Wi-Fi calling is not much more than what it already offers with FaceTime video chat on iOS, minus the video, noted Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

"Wi-Fi calling is really at the noise level for Apple ... that isn't all that important for the iPhone and potential iPhone users," Moorhead said. "With iOS 8, Apple has plugged a lot of competitive holes in messaging and communications, and Wi-Fi calling was one of those features added."



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