With the recent release of Apple’s new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus flagship smartphones, there’s been a lot of talk about WiFi calling lately. Unbeknownst to many, WiFi calling has been around for about a decade, as T-Mobile was the only carrier to sign on with an early standard called Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), which uses WiFi to connect a mobile handset to a broadband internet connection.
Because the quality of T-Mobile’s wireless calling over the years has been shaky, the mobile giant was hesitant to push the feature, until now. In a launch event earlier this month, the carrier announced a new version of WiFi calling with HD voice quality and seamless hand offs between WiFi and cellular networks. This new feature will be available on Android, Windows phones and Apple’s new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Software updates will roll out to enable it, most likely by mid-October.
WiFi calling uses a wireless internet connection to handle the voice call instead of the cellular network. Callers using this feature can then call any number on any network or wired line, even if the other caller isn’t using a WiFi calling service. T Mobile will offer a Personal CellSpot, a home router that will prioritize WiFi calling traffic, to any subscriber who wants one. They are also allowing customers to upgrade their phones through a one-time enrollment in its JUMP program.
For the time being, WiFi calling is staying at home. Connecting to public hotspots could get messy and open up a myriad of wireless security problems for carriers. Noted in fine print on the company’s website, “devices using WiFi calling could be vulnerable to unauthorized attempts to access data and software on the device.” This opens up the potential for smartphones to connect to rogue access points or a user to become a victim of a wireless man-in-the-middle attack.
The company pursued the technology early on because it has a weaker wireless network than its rivals. As AT&T and Verizon have robust cellular coverage nationwide, there may not be a need for the two mobile giants to jump on the bandwagon just yet. The service was made available by Sprint on some Android devices in February. AT&T and Verizon say they will add WiFi calling by mid-2015.