Mobile network operator (MNO) EE is to launch a voice over Wi-Fi (VoWLAN) service on Lumia 640 and Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge devices from 10 April 2015, with wider availability on other devices set for later in the year.
EE has claimed its service is unlike rival services, such as Three’s inTouch, because it does not use an app and instead uses the device's normal dialer and contact book to make calls and send texts.
Orange customers grandfathered into the EE network had been able to use a VoWLAN service called Signal Boost on selected Android, BlackBerry and Nokia devices, but the service has been closed to new customers for some time.
VoWLAN services have become an important part of the MNO services arsenal, partly as a means to fight back against over-the-top (OTT) messaging services such as Skype, and partly to keep customers in touch – and spending money – if they are unable to access mobile signal in their home.
EE said that one in 10 people in the UK lost mobile connection in at least one room in their house – according to an ICM poll it commissioned. This figure increases to 15% in rural areas, it revealed.
The MNO also believes that offering a VoWLAN service will be of benefit to the increasing number of home workers in the UK.
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Furthermore, National Association of Estate Agents president Simon Gerrard said improved connectivity can increase the value of a property when it comes on the market.
“Mobile coverage is becoming increasingly important to people when they’re buying a house – innovations like this can help sellers ensure they are maximising the value of their home and are not losing out due to poor mobile coverage,” he said.
According to EE CEO Olaf Swantee, losing coverage at home is a major frustration.
“Wi-Fi calling will make a real difference to millions of customers across the UK, from basement flats in London to the most rural homes in the country,” he said.
“Our customers want to be able to call and text no matter where they are, and they don’t want to have to think about which app they need to use or if their friends have a particular third-party service.”
Dave Fraser, CEO of Wi-Fi systems supplier Devicescape, welcomed EE’s move towards more integrated connectivity for customers, but said the problem probably extended further than just voice and text connectivity.
“Smartphone users need high-quality connectivity for data as well as voice wherever they go, indoors and out, public or private. For an integrated connectivity service to be truly valuable, and this is particularly important with regard to Wi-Fi calling, users need their devices to connect to Wi-Fi automatically wherever cellular coverage is inadequate,” he said.