Wi-Fi Calling will change how African consumers and businesses benefit from mobile communication in 2015, says MICHAEL FLETCHER.
At its most basic, Wi-Fi Calling provides the mobile operator with the opportunity to use Wi-Fi in order to enhance its coverage and increase network capacity. It establishes a secure connection to a mobile network over a wireless network for the delivery of voice and messaging services.
Because a person can use the standard dialler app and contact list on a supported mobile device, Wi-Fi Calling is a completely seamless experience. When travelling, people are able to use the available Wi-Fi connections at airports, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and airports for not only their messaging and data needs but their voice needs as well. Not only does this reduce strain on operator networks, it also improves coverage in areas where there is no reliable mobile signal. Think places like the Gautrain stations and the like.
It is expected that 3GPP IR-92, the technology used for Wi-Fi Calling, will drive greater amounts of smartphone traffic onto Wi-Fi networks. This could fundamentally change the mobile network operator business model. An example of this could be the development of Voice over Wi-Fi smartphones at a lower entry point thereby catering for emerging markets. Irrespective of whether it is an Android, iOS, or Microsoft Phone-based device, the interoperability of the technology means it could work on virtually any handset.
An example of an operator who has embraced this new way of working is American-based Republic Wireless. It offers unlimited talk and text over Wi-Fi for $5 (approximately R58) per month. It is therefore likely that Wi-Fi Calling will gain momentum globally over the coming months. Whether African operators, who are generally very traditional in their business models adopt this, remains to be seen.
Sceptics might argue that wireless was never designed for voice and could result in technical issues. However, advances in antenna technology mean that delay-sensitive content such as video and voice will be able to utilise a highly optimised signal. Moreover, connections to Wi-Fi are becoming easier thanks to handset manufacturers who understand the importance that this could have on the market.
Already, many consumers have gotten used to the idea of connecting their mobile devices to their home networks or other wireless hotspots to save on costs. It would therefore be a natural extension to use this connectivity for things like voice calls and text messages. From being a mobile-first continent, Africa could do well to start embracing the notion of Wi-Fi first given the benefits that this could have for infrastructure and end-user access and costs.
* Michael Fletcher, sales director for Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa
* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA