When the new iOS 8 rolls out this fall, it will come with a new feature in the form of Wi-Fi calling. This is a pretty big deal by itself; while Wi-Fi calling was available in several forms previously, for Apple (News - Alert) to officially step in is a big step indeed. But Apple won't be alone on this front, as T-Mobile—according to reports from Computerworld—made it clear that it was going to be backing Apple's Wi-Fi calling play to the hilt by supporting the feature on the iPhones sold through T-Mobile (News - Alert).
Part of this is likely owing to history; T-Mobile was first to offer Wi-Fi calling, reportedly as far back as 2007. Sprint, meanwhile, also offers a Wi-Fi calling system which can be put to work where a cellular signal can't be had, though not specifically as yet for the iPhone. AT&T (News - Alert) and Verizon, meanwhile, weren't talking about such things, with AT&T reportedly staying quiet and Verizon bringing out a spokeswoman to declare “I'm not going to speculate on what might be offered in the future on our nationwide network, and we don't offer Wi-Fi calling currently.”
There are certain advantages to the point of Wi-Fi-calling built in, including not having to bring in a separate app—like Skype (News - Alert) or the growing numbers of Web-based real time communications (WebRTC) apps—to place the calls in question, as well as a lack of service fees involved and the ability to keep a current phone number. T-Mobile, at last report however, does count voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calls that use Wi-Fi calling as minutes against a service plan. But one big plus to the idea of Wi-Fi calling goes to the carriers; said carrier gets to reduce the load on the network by offloading traffic. That not only gives the network an advantage, but it also allows users to get better coverage, giving the carrier a better overall appearance.
But Wi-Fi calling didn't seem to be much of a priority for Apple, with the idea being quietly brought in behind things like a Braille keyboard, or hearing aids backed up with the Made for iPhone standard. This all in turn led some to wonder, if Apple doesn't seem terribly concerned, why is T-Mobile shouting this from the rooftops? Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead noted that Wi-Fi calling “...is really at the noise level for Apple.”
The key here may be in T-Mobile's user base. Nearly five million T-Mobile customers turn to Wi-Fi calling in a month, and 17 million of its devices are capable of using such a service. For T-Mobile to point out that iOS 8 is in on the action could be a selling point to T-Mobile; not only does it have a service that's pretty widely used, but it also has a service that's pretty widely used on a device that people really want to own. Plus, there's a point to make about T-Mobile's status as the “un-carrier”, so anything it can do to distinguish itself from AT&T and Verizon—even Sprint (News - Alert)—is worth doing.Whether it's a matter of image or a matter of function—or any combination of both—T-Mobile is clearly bringing out new features and backing the play of those phone makers who join in. Just how far this goes remains to be seen, but it might well win T-Mobile a few extra users.