Carries to Put Restrictions on VOIP, GSM on WiFi

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-10-18 Print this article Print

There is, however, one area in which 3G congestion is likely to get worse, and where it can't be fixed by making WiFi available. That area is voice communications, which is arguably the most important part of having a phone. The reason is that in the United States at least, only one carrier allows voice calls over WiFi. 

T-Mobile started allowing WiFi calling when it brought out the BlackBerry Curve a few years ago. This may have been due to the fact that T-Mobile's coverage in the United States was pretty thin and their 3G solution wasn't going to be coming along right away. So as a result, the company created a service that lets you make calls using any WiFi connection. Unless you were on a specific plan that allowed unlimited calling, you'd get charged your voice minutes just as if you'd made a call using T-Mobile's regular voice network.  

"The other carriers are going to have to allow this," Callisch said. He pointed out that the 3G and 4G networks only have so much capacity. In dense urban environments WiFi is the technology that makes sense, especially when it uses 11n with its support for specialized antenna technology and very high bandwidth, Callisch said. Restrictions on the use of Skype and other VoIP technologies as well as technology such as GSM over WiFi that T-Mobile uses are going to be necessary if carriers are going to be able to serve their customers, he said. 

In cities where it's already available, such as in Hong Kong, Callisch said that as much as 80 percent of peak traffic is handled by WiFi instead of 3G or 4G technologies. He noted that in many cases, this traffic comes from demand for video programming, which is exactly the service that carriers want to provide because they can charge more for video. But he noted that without it, the carriers are going to be limited in what they can provide. 

Right now, however, it seems as if the U.S. carriers consider WiFi to be mostly an afterthought. Most smartphones support WiFi only for data. Verizon Wireless, with its Skype support on Android phones, AT&T with Skype support on iPhones, and T-Mobile allow it to be used for voice communications. Otherwise, it's data only, apparently that's added for delivery of e-mail and movies for people when they're inside buildings. But outdoor WiFi is already here, and it might be the only near term workable solution carriers have for the demands on their capacity. Now they just have to let their customers use it for everything. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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