Americans in Europe like using Wi-Fi calling, Ericsson discovers

Brits abroad don't know if they like it, as nobody will let them find out

Research from Ericsson shows that people like using Wi-Fi calling, the service which can act as a replacement for a mobile phone network.

The big thing which differentiates Wi-Fi calling from other forms of VoIP is that it’s part of the IMS 3GPP standard. It doesn’t need any apps and ties in neatly to your phone number, supporting SMS.

It’s not a new standard – the specs date back to 2005, when BT saw it as such an obvious thing to do that it rolled out a service.

What Ericsson has found is that 61 per cent of the respondents claim they now make more frequent and longer voice calls, while around half say they have replaced some over-the-top app communication with voice calls utilising Wi-Fi calling.

The report details how the Wi-Fi calling service affects communication behaviour among those already using it, and investigates the benefits that consumers consider the service offers.

It also explores whether Wi-Fi calling changes consumers’ perceptions of providers offering such services, and also examines how it is viewed by frequent international travellers.

Only one UK operator currently offers Wi-Fi calling. That’s EE, although Vodafone says it’s coming “this summer”, while O2 and Three have app-based ways to do it.

The key findings in the report included: “The experience of uninterrupted service drives satisfaction among 4 out of 5 existing Wi-Fi calling users who are frequent international travellers from the US. This leads to better consumer loyalty and advocacy (Net Promoter Score). Some 61 per cent claim they now make longer and more frequent voice calls.”

So travellers like it. The findings went on to say: “International smartphone travellers adapt their behaviour whilst abroad. Fewer voice calls are made, 88 per cent seek Wi-Fi whenever possible and 23 per cent switch off their phones. Two out of three pre-plan communication and half rely on communication apps.”

This shows that travellers really like it, so much so that “a third of international smartphone travellers are aware of Wi-Fi calling, with 7 out of 10 finding it appealing. Seventy-seven per cent will increase communication using Wi-Fi calling. The ability to call from the smartphone dialer itself without the help of apps is valued most by consumers”.

So, it sounds like a slam dunk for EE. Except EE blocks overseas IP addresses. The company claims that using Wi-Fi calling while overseas could lead to your phone handing off between cellular and Wi-Fi, which could lead to your being charged twice.

So you have to wonder where Ericsson, which did research in London and Chicago, found all those happy roamers.

It seems they were Americans in London, because T-Mobile, and Sprint both offer it, and neither seems to have a problem with customers being charged twice.

Ericsson also found that people liked Wi-Fi calling as a way to get coverage where the cellular network is poor, typically at home, as you have to log into each Wi-Fi hotspot individually.

There are other ways to achieve the same effect. For a while Orange and Blackberry were very keen on UMA. This uses the radio part of the software – layer 3 – to do the shuffling between the radio bearers. IMS Wi-Fi calling leaves the protocol stack alone and instead works at the IP level, being essentially SIP and running over the top of the radio. This, however, needs the dialler app to know about the two systems.

A huge benefit of Wi-Fi calling is that you can use it in places which have Wi-Fi but no mobile connections, such as in aeroplanes – many of which now have Wi-Fi – and on the London Underground, which has Wi-Fi on most underground station platforms, but not in the tunnels.

While the report might smack of Ericsson just wanting to sell its kit to mobile operators, the Ericsson Consumer Lab – which did the research – is respected as being independent and authoritative.

It took the form of detailed face-to-face interviews and an online survey of 5,000 users in Brazil, Egypt, Spain, the UK and the US. You can read it here [PDF]. ®

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