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Voice over everything but not everywhere


via flickr © Scott Meis (CC BY-ND 2.0)

UK mobile operator EE (yes, it really is called that) has announced plans to launch VoLTE (Voice over LTE) in early 2015, but voice over WiFi this year. The two approaches will co-exist  to form one voice network, with the Voice over WiFi option being targetted at indoor coverage where EE, which uses spectrum in the 1800 range for its 4G offering, is particularly weak. 

Orange UK, one half of the EE UK network sharing joint venture with T-Mobile, has a bit of a history of offering WiFi calling from home, using specific phones, but it always resisted the temptation to really push the option. This was probably because it wasn’t totally reliable but could, at least, be offered as palliative to customers where there was bad cellular reception. 

It must now feel confident enough of the client technology and its own integration efforts and experience to make the WiFi voice option a core part of its play.  It says, for instance, that it is aiming to hit a less than 0.5 per cent call drop rate - an improvement on what it’s doing at the moment. 

EE is therefore being rigorous about just ‘what’ WiFi will be able to be used. According to Analysys Mason, “the Voice-over-Wi-Fi functionality proposed by EE will undergo an optimization process through which selected services will have to meet a set of stringent Quality of Experience criteria. Services that do not meet these criteria on selected public Wi-Fi networks will be blocked. “

The company claims  that the voice over WiFi will be “routed automatically” so is therefore transparent to the user with the handset simply reverting to WiFi if there’s no cell service available. There is no app to download, the diallers will be embedded in the phone. 

In fact the strategy, if successful,  won’t just overcome the coverage problem, but should also reduce EE’s average cost of delivering a minute (assuming the fact that many minutes will originate in the home or place of work) since it will, by definition, be using other carriers’ access infrastructure (via home WiFi for instance) for a large proportion of the calls. 

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