AT&T dragging its feet with Wi-Fi Calling

Apple September 2014 event (Wi-Fi Calling 001)

AT&T, the nation’s second-biggest wireless provider, is allegedly planning on rolling out the Wi-Fi Calling feature to its subscribers, but in 2015 rather than this year, LightReading reported Friday.

Already supported on T-Mobile, but not coming anytime soon to Verizon (Sprint has yet to announce it), Wi-Fi Calling is supported by the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The feature will be coming to older iPhones from the iPhone 5 onward, courtesy of the free iOS 8 update scheduled to release next Wednesday.

Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO of AT&T’s new Mobile and Business Solutions group, told investors Friday at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference that his company would deploy Wi-Fi Calling at an unspecified point in 2015, “but only as a complement to voice-over-LTE and 3G voice,” as per LightReading.

Apple’s marketing honcho Phil Schiller said Tuesday at the iPhone 6 unveiling that Wi-Fi Calling will be supported at launch by T-Mobile in the United States and UK’s EE, with more carriers flipping the switch on Wi-Fi Calling in due time.

If I were AT&T, I’d go out of my way to roll out Wi-Fi Calling on my network. Some high-end Android handsets already implement this interesting feature that will quickly gain popularity now that the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 support it.

Apple September 2014 event (Wi-Fi Calling 002)

Earlier today, AT&T said that “demand for Apple’s iPhone 6 is already greater than the last two years,” reporting “hundreds of thousands” of pre-orders for the device in just a few hours. An Apple spokesperson also confirmed to Re/code that iPhone 6 demand is already off the charts.

For those unfamiliar with Wi-Fi Calling, it’s a really cool feature which promises to improve audio quality while enabling calling even in pockets of coverage dominated by poor cellular reception.

As the name suggests, Wi-Fi Calling makes calling and text messaging over Wi-Fi, by using your standard cellular connection, possible. So, as you make a call over Wi-Fi (and it’s all automatic, you just make a phone call), you stay on Wi-Fi.

But as you leave the Wi-Fi network, your call will be seamlessly handed off to the normal cell network as the VoLTE call. Wi-Fi Calling uses the ubiquitous Voice over IP (VoIP) protocol to deliver voice communications over IP networks, such as the Internet or your cellular network.

iPhone 6 ladscape home screen sideway

VoIP-based calling over the Internet is supported by Apple’s FaceTime applications, as well as by popular VoIP apps like Skype, Viber and others.

Compared to standard calling over carriers’ public switched telephone networks (PSTN), Wi-Fi Calling offers much better audio quality and enables voice communications in areas with bad cellular reception — provided there’s Wi-Fi available.

Again, Wi-Fi Calling is now available to T-Mobile customers as a free of charge feature. Sprint has yet to announce support for Wi-Fi Calling on iPhones and Verizon apparently is not interested to undercut its service revenues with this potentially disruptive feature and confirmed ti CNET it had no immediate plans for Wi-Fi Calling.