Apple's Adding WiFi Calling to iOS 8 Is Helpful, if Unexciting

NEWS ANALYSIS: Analysts suggest that Apple's inclusion of WiFi Calling support in iOS 8 is just a bit of welcome housekeeping.

iOS 8

WiFi Calling is among the new features of iOS 8 that Apple didn't get to highlight on stage during its introduction of the mobile platform at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) June 2.

T-Mobile was quick to announce that it will support the feature, which enables users to, as the name suggests, place a phone call over a WiFi network instead of a cellular network. This can be handy when one is in an area with poor reception and cheaper when travelling internationally.

T-Mobile began supporting WiFi Calling in 2007 on its Android and Windows-running smartphones, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert said in a June 2 blog post. Once iOS 8 rolls out this fall, enabling iPhone users to take advantage of the offering, "over 90 percent of all T-Mobile smartphones will feature WiFi Calling," wrote Sievert.

Currently, there are 17 million WiFi Calling-enabled devices on the T-Mobile network, and nearly 5 million customers use the service each month.

One of the best things about it, he added, is that it's simple.

"You don't need to activate anything or download a special app,” said Sievert. “Just connect to any available WiFi network, check that WiFi Calling is turned on on your capable smartphone, and make a call (or send a text, email, etc.) as you normally would."

In February, Sprint announced WiFi Calling support for the Galaxy S4 Mini and the Galaxy Mega.

Simply put, WiFi Calling is not so much a high-tech feature worth shouting about as it is a welcome and convenient option to have, when all parties support it.

It's basically Voice over IP, or VOIP, said Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies.

"Depending on your phone plan, you may be paying for minutes. So if you can use WiFi instead of minutes, sure that's a help. But who's being charged for minutes any more?" said Kay.

In a case where an enterprise supports iPhone users who frequently travel overseas, certainly there's a benefit.

"If you can use the hotel WiFi to make phone calls, that is definitely money saved," Kay added. "But, basically, this is just Apple adding a capability that may be valuable, depending on your circumstance."

WiFi calling is already available between iOS and OS X devices through FaceTime Audio, "though Apple hasn't really promoted that aggressively so far," Jan Dawson, principal analyst with Jackdaw Research, told eWEEK.

"In general," he added, "I don't see WiFi calling as a new feature in iOS 8 being a big deal, in enterprise or otherwise. With a shift to unlimited calling with many carriers, and existing options like Skype and FaceTime Audio, this will have a minimal impact."

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