Opinion: To WiFi calling, and beyond!

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/awiekupo)

So far in 2015, UK mobile operators have been unveiling new technologies and solutions to improve the situation for consumers at an incredible rate. March saw EE introduce the first integrated WiFi calling service in the country. In the last month, Vodafone launched its own VoWiFi service, and Three become the first operator in the UK to launch voice calling over 4G, or VoLTE. O2 meanwhile has announced it has begun trialling VoLTE this quarter, giving them the ability to migrate from their existing VoWiFi app offering to an integrated Wi-Fi calling service.

Despite the best efforts from operators and for all of the government’s talk around building a world class mobile network in the UK, Brits still have to deal with a lot of problems with their mobile service providers. For every piece of research that finds the UK has some of the fastest mobile internet speeds in the world, data GWS has collected shows that consumers are dealing with patchy voice quality, slow data speeds, and coverage blackspots in their homes. How has the introduction of these new technologies affected consumers' mobile experience, and what does it mean for the operators?

With a smaller user base and no 2G networks to maintain, it makes sense that Three has started to implement newer technologies and services to make them the first UK operator to offer VoLTE. Timing is everything as consumers are reluctant to sign a lengthy contract with an operator that doesn’t have the same levels of voice quality and cutting edge innovations as their competitors. This is borne out by the testing undertaken around the UK which shows that Three has lagged behind the other major network operators. By updating their network and offering VoLTE based on a 800 MHz spectrum, Three now has the means to attract new customers, as well as keep existing customers by showing that with the right handset their voice quality and coverage can be significantly increased. The move also incentivises Three to continue to invest in, expand, and improve their 4G network because it now offers its users a broader range of services which will should increase their user base and subsequently increase the amount of traffic their 4G spectrum has to deal with.

Moving beyond legacy 2G networks

For the larger operators, the introduction of Wi-Fi calling offers similar benefits in terms of customer attraction and retention. Consumer research undertaken earlier this year to get an idea of what consumers want and expect from their network operators; found that a major reason consumers switched networks was poor performance. In fact, a survey found that 1 in 4 UK adults felt that mobile data connectivity issues had ‘definitely contributed’ to their decision to switch operators in the past – whilst more than 1 in 7 respondents had changed their mobile service provider because of mobile voice signal blackspots in their homes.

O2 meanwhile has announced it has begun trialling VoLTE this quarter, giving them the ability to migrate from their existing VoWiFi app

WiFi calling also has wide-reaching implications for how operators look at their network traffic across the board. We know that some operators struggle to provide consistent mobile network coverage both indoors and outdoors, but WiFi calling means that operators can move voice traffic off their 2G/3G spectrum and into the hands of a fixed line internet provider.

For an operator like Vodafone, which has a large legacy 2G network, WiFi calling means their 2G networks will become less used as more devices combined with newer networks offer the seamless calling experience consumers demand and, as a result, provide incentive for operators with older networks to shift their efforts and resources onto improving their 4G network. The same is true for O2, who currently offers Wi-Fi calling through their Tu Go app, but it should be noted that in on-site testing in London; O2 achieved the best in-home 4G penetration. Being able to reduce voice traffic on their networks whilst keeping those customers is a great instigator for progress for these operators.

Mobile network operators’ evolution into quad-players

While offloading traffic and making efficient use of mobile network capacity is a strategy for all operators, EE’s objectives behind WiFi calling may go one step further. It’s no secret that the end game for the acquisition of EE by BT is for the resulting company to be a true ‘quad-play’ provider – offering TV, fixed line broadband, phone and mobile packages. Through offering a package of all four services, EE and BT will be hoping they can entice consumers in with low costs and one monthly bill for the whole household. WiFi calling would be a powerful tool in the arsenal of a true quad-play provider because they would be able to have greater control of the networks it is providing for voice calls in the home.

Operators will build consumer trust in their networks and be able to keep up with consumer connectivity demands

What is clear is that consumers still face issues with their mobile connectivity. The findings of the consumer research GWS undertook to understand the perceived issues with mobile connectivity at home match-up with the findings of in-depth tests in London which show that consumer expectations are based in reality. The good news is that operators are investing in their networks and listening to their customers – and by introducing the likes of Wi-Fi calling and VoLTE – they are able to offer tangible improvements to their customers.

The not-so-good news is that mobile networks have become increasingly complicated with the introduction of newer advanced features and capabilities such as LTE-A, carrier aggregation, and HD calling along with VoLTE and WiFi calling. Operators face a whole set of new challenges in terms of network deployment and optimization, feature benchmark testing, spectrum reuse, and so on.  It’s key during the early stages of implementation that operators can move quick and deal with any teething problems as they arise. Through keeping an eye on the customer experience, particularly making sure any of the new generation features are working seamlessly, operators will build consumer trust in their networks and be able to keep up with consumer connectivity demands as they catch up to these new technologies.

What impact do you feel these advancements will have? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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