AT&T Wireless customers who use iPhone 6s or 6 smartphones and iOS 9 will now be able to make and receive calls over WiFi, just two days after the company received a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission for rules that require accommodations for hearing-impaired customers who rely on TTY services.
The waiver, which was issued Oct. 6, was required because teletypewriter (TTY) services don't operate properly over WiFi networks. TTY services under FCC rules must be provided for telecommunications networks. TTY services allow voice communication to be relayed using typed words, rather than by voice.
On Oct. 6, Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, told eWEEK that AT&T would begin providing the new WiFi services as soon as possible, but gave no timeline for the launch.
That changed on Oct. 8, when the company published a post announcing the new WiFi services for iPhone users on the AT&T Innovation Blog. The services will only work with users of iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones running iOS 9 from Apple, according to AT&T.
"Once set-up, your phone will use WiFi Calling automatically in places where you have limited or no cell signal, but you do have a WiFi Internet connection," the post states. "In order to use WiFi Calling, customers just need a compatible device with iOS 9 installed, a postpaid wireless account set-up for HD Voice and a WiFi Internet connection. This includes a WiFi connection set up at home or the office."
Callers will continue to use their existing mobile phone numbers and will be able to make and receive calls as they normally would on the cellular network. No separate app or configuration is needed. There are no additional costs for the service for calls to U.S. phone numbers.
In an email reply to eWEEK, Cicconi said that "our wireless folks are very good at what they do, and we're anxious and ready to deploy as soon as [the] waiver was granted."
AT&T customers can make and receive unlimited domestic calls within the U.S., Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands at no additional charge using WiFi, according to the company.
International long distance rates apply for calls made to international numbers. Text messages sent or received using WiFi will be counted and charged under a user's existing rate plan.
Under the waiver granted by the FCC, AT&T will have more time, until Dec. 31, 2017, to comply with its TTY service requirements for the deaf, according to the agency. In the meantime, AT&T will use another technology, real-time text (RTT), until progress is made with TTY over WiFi.
Cicconi was critical earlier this week about the FCC's timeline in getting the waiver approved.
In an Oct. 1 letter to the FCC, Cicconi complained that while his company has been following the FCC's rules, two competitors—T-Mobile and Sprint—have already been offering WiFi calling without having filed waivers for the TTY requirements and that the agency is doing nothing to stop them.
AT&T said that the FCC's delays in acting on its waiver request ultimately put the company behind its competitors in the marketplace in offering the services. Had AT&T been able to get its waiver earlier, it had planned to have its mobile WiFi services operating by Sept. 25 in time for Apple's latest iPhone 6s models and for the latest iOS 9 update, said Cicconi. AT&T filed an application for the waiver in June, but the agency "sat on it for 6 weeks," he charged.
Sprint has been offering WiFi calling services to many of its Android customers since February 2014, according to an earlier eWEEK story. In April, iPhone users finally got the capabilities, as long as they were using more recent iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s smartphones. The services give users capabilities to make calls over WiFi when normal cellular connections are weak or not possible.
T-Mobile launched its WiFi Calling technology in June 2007, and has been expanding it over time, according to a previous eWEEK report. In September 2014, T-Mobile unveiled home "cellspot" routers that allow customers to make WiFi calls in their homes or businesses, essentially turning the WiFi connection into a cellular tower.