Three has announced its intention to let customers make phone calls over WiFi with the launch of a new app.
Three's announcement follows hot on the heels of a similar move from EE. However, where EE's service will work from the native phone dialler within devices, the Three service will require an app. O2's Tu app offers the same service.
The app, which will be called Three inTouch, will allow customers to talk and text over Wi-Fi. Three said it will be available to all customers from early August and offered free of charge.
EE announced almost identical plans to allow customers to make voice calls over WiFi networks, although it won't require an app, claiming it will help boost call quality and reduce the amount of dropped calls on its network.
EE revealed the new plans during an event on Thursday, attended by V3 at one of its testing labs north of London, explaining it would be live by the end of the year, most likely in the autumn.
The voice-over-WiFi service will not need an application to work and it will just require a connection to an authorised home, corporate or public WiFi network, with EE demoing the technology using two Galaxy Note 3 devices.
EE’s director of network services, Tom Bennett, said bringing this capability to users on its network would reduce the frustration when mobile coverage is lacking.
“In homes and offices there is not necessarily always good mobile coverage, but WiFi is pervasive. So if a user can make a call over WiFi, they can make a carrier grade call wherever they are, and switch over to cellular if required,” he said.
EE said the data required to make a voice call over WiFi is minimal, so that even basic WiFi connections will be good enough for calls.
This would be especially useful for those in remote areas where mobile coverage can be lacking but internet services are available, so homes or businesses can use a WiFi connection for calls.
However, using the technology requires phones with several key components and firmware capabilities, which many current devices do not have, so those able to make calls over WiFi will be limited.
This will grow over time, though, according to EE, as new devices come equipped with the required technologies to use voice-over-WiFi services. EE likened this to the launch of 4G in 2013, when many phones did not have the right spectrum access components, but now they are included as a matter of course.
EE is also revealed it is working on voice-over-LTE services (VoLTE), which it hopes to have live by the middle of next year.
It has been demoing this at its test labs, using the 800MHz spectrum it acquired in the auctions in 2012. It has also just started running a test in a rural area of Oxfordshire, bringing both voice and data services to the region for the first time.
Bennett explained that this work has taken longer than voice-over-WiFi as there have been more complications to work through.
“Voice over LTE is a lot more complicated than voice over WiFi,” Bennett explained. “We have to be sure when it comes to market it offers a continuously reliable experience."
EE also explained it is working to enhance its voice coverage in several high-capacity areas as part of its Platinum Project work to get dropped call rates below 0.5 percent.
It has done this already in Derby, helping to get the rate down to 0.4 percent. EE is now planning on doing the same in London, in the Southbank, the City and around the entire M25.
This involves members of the EE team walking, and driving, hundreds of miles to monitor the call performance on its network, to help it identify troublesome areas where calls are dropping out.
Finally, the My EE app will start noting the GPS data where the phone receives no signal, before sending this data on anonymously when back in signal, to help the firm better identify signal 'notspots'.
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