In a statement this week Vodafone UK has said it’s been testing Wi-Fi calling and VoLTE in its labs in recent months and it’s now ready to move forward with a commercial launch to customers this summer. Once the technologies do launch, their benefits could be immense, but just what is Wi-Fi calling and VoLTE and what does their arrival mean for you? Here’s everything you need to know.
But, first: definitions. Simply put Wi-Fi calling refers to the ability of a phone to place calls through a wireless Internet connection without the need for a third party app. If this sounds familiar its because apps like Skype already allow us to make Wi-Fi-only calls to a landline from our mobiles. Yet this existing VOIP technology requires a third-party app (in this case, Skype). What Wi-Fi calling allows is for you to open up the default dialer on your smartphone and place a normal call over a Wi-Fi network. In other words, before Wi-Fi calling if your smartphone had no cellular signal your phone’s default ability to place calls was DEAD. With Wi-Fi calling your smartphone will now route those calls through a wireless Internet network when it can’t get a cellular signal.
On the flip side of Wi-Fi calling is VoLTE. VoLTE stands for “Voice over LTE” and refers to its ability to send voice calls over a carrier’s data network instead of only using its 2G or 3G cellular voice network.
The concept is easier to digest when you think about what our current 4G LTE networks were designed for: sending massive amounts of data, not voice signals. Matter of fact, many mistakenly assume their 4G connection allows them to make calls, but in actuality whenever you place a call on a 4G-enabled smartphone, that phone automatically switches over to a 2G or 3G network to send the call. With VoLTE you’ll now be able to send voice over that 4G signal as well.
Qualcomm launched a VoLTE-enabled Snapdragon 800 chipset way back in July 2014. Destined for Japan’s NTT DOCOMO network, the VoLTE-enabled chipset introduced higher quality voice calls, faster voice connections with low call set-up times and simultaneous voice and Cat4 data rates up to 150 Mbps over LTE to Japan’s millions of mobile users. And this year, the UK will be getting a taste of the action, too. Not bad when you consider how long it took us to get 4G setup.
“NTT DOCOMO has launched the leading edge voice and video service, allowing VoLTE service to be available commercially nationwide in Japan as of June” said Kazuaki Terunuma, vice president and managing director of communication device development department, NTT DOCOMO, INC. “We have successfully worked with Qualcomm Technologies in LTE technology for many years, which is why we chose to work with them for VoLTE technology as well. With this comprehensive, stable and extensively tested chipset with IMS software solution, we are able to provide leading edge VoLTE services on mobile phones from several manufacturers to our customers.”
Benefits of Wi-Fi Calling and VoLTE?
The benefits of Wi-Fi calling will be most noticeable in areas where it’s hard to get a 2G or 3G signal. These are mainly rural areas that are poorly served by cellular towers. Previous to Wi-Fi calling if the smartphone couldn’t get a cellular signal it couldn’t place the call. Now as long as that rural household can get a hard line Internet connection, they can then route through a wireless router and place calls from their mobile to landlines or other mobiles just by using the dialer on their phone. No Skype required.
VoLTE has several benefits as well. The most noticeable is that your call quality will get much, much better. Matter of fact, some carriers are branding VoLTE as “HD calling” and in a way it is; voices will sound much richer and more natural. And since VoLTE is almost twice as fast as traditional 2G and 3G cellular networks, calls will be connected much faster.
But there’s more: VoLTE could also prolong your battery life. Remember how I said when you place a call on a 4G network your phone automatically switches from 4G to a 2G or 3G signal? This switching of antennas in your phone takes power, which drains your battery. Since VoLTE will enable you to place calls on 4G your battery life could improve because no power-draining switching of antennas is required.
Drawbacks of Wi-Fi Calling and VoLTE?
With Wi-Fi calling, not so much. But when it comes to VoLTE there are a few. Primarily, even if your network offers VoLTE, you will only benefit from it if your phone supports it (see below). And that HD voice call quality I talked about? That’s only the case if the person you are calling has a VoLTE phone and both of you are on a 4G network for the duration of your call.
How Do I Get Wi-Fi Calling and VoLTE?
First, you need a carrier that supports both. Vodafone UK, as mentioned previously, will roll both features out by the summer. Other providers like O2, EE, and Three are currently trialing VoLTE and will be expanding their services to a wider audience this year.
But in order to take advantage of VoLTE when it does arrive you’ll need a VoLTE-capable phone. On the Apple side of things that only includes the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus for now. More Android devices support VoLTE, but only if the carrier builds support for those VoLTE phones into their network and the phones have the appropriate software upgrades. Android phones that could potentially support VoLTE, as long as the network adds support for those models, include the Samsung Galaxy S6, Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, LG G2, LG G Flex and the Samsung Galaxy Light, among others–and that list is growing all the time.