During mobile network Cell C‘s announcement earlier today of its financial situation for the first quarter of this year, CEO Jose Dos Santos revealed that the company will soon be rolling out WiFi calling.
But what exactly is it, and how will it affect you?
WiFi calling shouldn’t be confused with Voice over IP (VoIP), at least in common parlance. For the sake of differentiation, let’s say that VoIP requires a separate app on your phone – like Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage and so on. You can talk to other people with the same app installed for the price of the data consumed alone – which is effectively or near as damn free in most cases.
WiFi calling in this sense, however, is different because everything happens through your regular phone dialler. There’s no requirement for the person on the other end of the call to have specific software installed, as the VoIP call is connected to the regular phone network. So your phone should switch to WiFi calling simply being connect to a WiFi network while your SIM card is inserted. Where it gets really interesting – and there’s no news from Cell C on this front – is when you can switch from a regular call to WiFi calling midway through a call without noticing. That’s possible if your network uses Voice over LTE, through which all voice calls are transmitted as data anyway.
Accoridng to Cell C’s CEO, the biggest short term impact will be that whenever Cell C customers go overseas they will no longer need to rely on roaming plans. All they have to do is connect to a WiFi network, and Cell C will allow them to call telephone numbers (using their number) at South African call rates.
It will still pass the voice traffic through the internet, but the Cell C SIM card is what gives roaming customers access to local-rated calls – it acts as an access point, if you will. Think of it as making calls at home while being abroad, and connected to a WiFi network.
Cell C will be the first company to roll it out towards the end of July/the start August, but the move follows squarely in the footsteps of T-Mobile in the US and, to a lesser degree, that of WhatsApp calling.
Outspoken CEO of T-Mobile John J. Legere last year announced that T-Mobile will also be rolling out WiFi calling to its customers.
Legere explained that “all T-Mobile customers can also make free Wi-Fi calls to the United States from anywhere outside the country – all using their existing T-Mobile number with no app to install and no additional IDs or numbers to manage – wherever they have WiFi.”
The same is true for Cell C, except that Cell C customers will pay local rates when making calls from overseas.
Not only will be be cheaper for Cell C customers to make calls when they’re overseas, but it also presents a rather big problem for roaming companies who rely on people using their apps. The WiFi calling feature for Cell C effectively means that customers no longer need to make use of roaming apps, and if other networks follow suit, it could cause a bit of a panic in the industry.
Apple’s iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones already support WiFi calling on T-Mobile and Sprint in the United States and EE in the United Kingdom, and from August they can add Cell C to that list.