August 28, 2014 — Wi-Fi is rapidly becoming, or has become, depending upon who you hear it from, the de facto data platform for smart devices. The latest statistics show that Wi-Fi accounts for more than two-thirds of the average user’s data network. Does that mean Wi-Fi will be the primary mobile platform going forward and macrocell voice will become the secondary system?
It is entirely possible to have voice over Wi-Fi. In fact, it has been going on for years now, albeit not reliably or ubiquitously. Apps like Skype and WhatsApp work, but are fraught with limitations, complications and poor reliability. If Vo-Wi-Fi is going to work, it needs to work all the time, everywhere and with everything – and therein lies the problem.
Network-independent Vo-Wi-Fi is problematic for a number of reasons. Using unlicensed spectrum is at the top of the list. Quality and complexity are right there too. The fact is Wi-Fi is anybody’s game. And the companies that have the infrastructure to support it in a Hetnet (Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T), as well as smaller and regional MNOs, aren’t willing to invest a lot of resources into it because of its potentially fractured future.
In addition, issues such as system support, roaming across Wi-Fi networks, power consumption, and especially monetization and ROI, are a long way from unilateral player cooperation.
There are solutions. Intelligent and dynamic policies along with open discovery and strict QoS standards need to be implemented. Automatic Wi-Fi connect, disconnect and seamless roaming are also necessary. It seems Apple is seeing the light. It has integrated the Wi-Fi calling feature into the iOS. Maybe they know something the rest of us don’t.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of Small Cell Magazine.