When Sprint began offering WiFi calling services to many of its Android customers in February 2014, Apple iPhone users were left out and didn’t have access to the fledgling WiFi calling capabilities.
That is changing as Sprint is now unveiling WiFi capabilities for customers who are using the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s smartphones beginning on April 9. The new services will be made available over the next few weeks through software updates and will give iPhone users the capabilities to make calls over WiFi when normal cellular connections are weak or not possible.
Smartphone minutes and data communications conducted over WiFi networks do not count against a Sprint customer’s phone plan or data plan limits, making it a free way for them to communicate using their phones.
With the inclusion of the iPhones, Sprint now has more than 25 smartphones and more than 15 million customers with the ability to use WiFi calling, the company said in an April 9 announcement. WiFi calls are free to any phone number in the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico.
“WiFi Calling is like a major expansion of our network, allowing Sprint customers to get coverage anywhere they have WiFi connectivity,” David Owens, senior vice president of product development for Sprint, said in a statement. “Traditional wireless technology has some limitations in places like basements and high-rise office buildings. WiFi expands our customers’ connectivity in a big way. The addition of WiFi Calling for iPhone customers is just one more example of how Sprint is getting better every day.”
The expanded service for iPhone owners can be used anywhere there is a WiFi hot spot, according to the company.
In addition, the free WiFi calling feature is available to Sprint customers when they are traveling internationally in more than 200 countries, giving them the ability to call home for free on their devices as long as they are using a WiFi connection.
Apple iPhone users must update their phone’s iOS software to version 8.3 and make other carrier setting updates to access the expanded WiFi services.
WiFi smartphone capabilities have been expanding in the last year, with competitor T-Mobile unveiling similar services in September 2014 for its customers, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The T-Mobile offering was part of the company’s WiFi Unleashed initiative, which gave its customers the ability to make mobile calls using WiFi networks almost anywhere around the world and to get free texting, messaging and voice mail services on domestic airline flights that are served by Gogo.
The big four mobile carriers—Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile—are always jockeying in the marketplace to lure new customers by providing broadened services, more data and lower monthly service rates.
In March, T-Mobile expanded its previously announced “data stash” program to prepaid mobile customers after rolling it out to postpaid customers with monthly contracts back in December 2014. The data stash lets customers roll over their unused data allotments to the next month, for up to a year at a time.
Following T-Mobile’s data stash program in January, competitor AT&T announced its own data rollover program, but customers can only roll over their unused data from one month to the next.
Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest mobile carrier, has so far resisted introducing a data rollover feature and previously said that it will not do so to prevent customers from leaving, according to a previous eWEEK report.