Wi-Fi calling: T-Mobile’s unused ace in the hole

What's the state of Wi-Fi calling on Android? We try to find out.

Living in the Northeast, I can honestly say I've dropped some voice calls in my time. I don't mean the AT&T oversaturation of 3G in cities like Boston, either; I mean a genuine lack of signal presence. Depending on what carrier you have and area you live in, you could be told flat-out by a salesperson that you'd better look elsewhere. It can be a very frustrating experience. I'm happy to say that I think the answer to the dropped call woes is here.

Back in June of 2007, Kineto Wireless partnered with T-Mobile to bring Wi-Fi Calling to select T-Mobile branded phones through Kineto's Smart Wi-Fi Application. In October 2010, this application came to Android as well, and T-Mobile currently hosts well more than 40 million Wi-Fi calls a month. At the recent Investor Relations Day in NYC, T-Mobile pledged a broad portfolio across ALL Android and Blackberry smartphones.

This was pretty promising stuff to me. I'd never seen Wi-Fi Calling in action, so I sent a tweet over to T-Mobile asking when we'd see such a application for the Nexus S, my current smartphone of choice. "That's up to Google." was the reply. Not the best answer in the world, but I figured I was perhaps talking to Tier-1 support.

I started doing some research into it myself, and I discovered that a Wi-Fi calling app was made by Kineto, a west coast wireless company. I looked them up, and sent them a quick e-mail to ask when Wi-Fi Calling would come to Android 2.3--the Nexus S, specifically. Steve Shaw of Kineto's corporate marketing department replied promptly and answered anything I ever could have asked about the service. Nice guy, up front and you can tell he lives this stuff. I have a feeling he'd have given me the shirt off his back, too, had I asked.

I did ask him a range of questions, and I wanted to mention a few of them here as I think you'll also find it interesting. It's an email exchange, so it's not as fluid as actual conversation would be:

Jason (PCW): How do you feel about open communities like XDA porting that app to different phones? Does Kineto have an official stance?

Steve (Kineto): "I was surprised how fast the development community jumped on Wi-Fi Calling. It's a pretty complicated piece of software, but I guess we should never underestimate what people can/will do, especially in an open source environment. Today Kineto has no position on porting. The App must communicate with a controller in the core network, so it's not really a free-for-all. Porting the app to another phone doesn't let anyone do anything subversive with their phone or to the network. I guess from T-Mobile's perspective, if it solves coverage problems and keeps subscribers happy, it's all good."

J: I live in Maine, and wi-fi calling is a real sell point, not to mention you just don't see T-Mo touting its benefits. Kineto is providing a real boon with this, and everyone should know about it.

Steve: "Per the investor conference, I think there was a very strong, top down message that Wi-Fi Calling is strategic for T-Mobile. Obviously the goal is to have WFC preloaded on devices at launch. I think that will be the case with devices coming out in 2011.

I also think that last year femtocells became the shining new object on the block, and got lots of coverage at a time when T-Mobile was completely mum on Wi-Fi Calling. Femtos are okay, but as I mentioned, we have an App that turns any Wi-Fi AP anywhere in the world basically into a femto. How cool is that? I've also had discussions with T-Mobile that Wi-Fi Calling is a unique advantage they have in the crowded US market. Wi-Fi calling lets their subscribers solve their own coverage problems. It is really cool.

Either way, I think T-Mobile finally sees WFC as a competitive advantage for them, which is great news for Kineto. We're working with Orange in Europe, who's moving slower, but did bring the LG Optimus 1 to market in 2010. They have a couple more devices on the way in Q1. It's starting to take hold."

Having used the Wi-Fi Calling Application on the MyTouch 4G, I can sincerely recommend it to anyone that is in one of T-Mobile's outlying areas that has a broadband internet connection and wireless. Amazing technology from great folks. The best part is, it just works. You turn the application on and it connects, ready for you to make calls. That's it. No separate SIP account, no hacks, no gimmicks. This is the real deal.

So, if you have less than preferred cell coverage in your neck of the woods but a screaming internet connection going to waste streaming Netflix, why not spare some bandwidth for crystal clear calling?

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This story, "Wi-Fi calling: T-Mobile’s unused ace in the hole" was originally published by PCWorld.

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