KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 17 — Most Malaysian mobile operators are expected to offer WiFi calling services to their customers by the end of 2016, believing that the new technology would help reduce churn.
According to Sebastian Barros, vice president of solutions for Ericsson Malaysia and Sri Lanka, his company has already conducted a pilot test with a Malaysian mobile operator.
“We have done the first WiFi call with one operator, but it’s not yet in commercial launch,” he told Digital News Asia in Petaling Jaya on Sept 15.
“I expect the big operators in Malaysia will be looking at introducing WiFi calling sometime next year,” he added.
WiFi calling is an operator-provided service that makes it possible for consumers to make regular phone calls and send text messages from their SIM-based mobile phone numbers even if they have poor cellular coverage, by utilising a WiFi network. It does not require an app to work either.
Consumers need to have compatible phones however, Barros pointed out, but he added that currently, most new smartphone models are capable of using this service.
Besides device compatibility, the carrier needs to have a WiFi calling system in place.
Currently, mobile operators that have launched WiFi calling services include Three and Smartone in Hong Kong; T-Mobile in the United States; and EE and O2 in the United Kingdom. Vodafone UK also plans to launch the service in the next few weeks.
Asked why Malaysian mobile operators were behind in launching WiFi calling services, Barros said the companies first needed to modernise their core networks to handle IP (Internet Protocol) traffic.
“All mobile operators have already modernised their radio networks. Now, they are in the midst of modernising their core networks.
“They need to have IP-ready networks, and not all operators in the country are fully IP-ready yet.
“But rest assured, all Malaysian telcos are working on it and have plans for WiFi calling.
“I can’t say much about their plans, but it’s fair to say that they are working on different approaches,” he told DNA.
Barros argued that the first Malaysian mobile operator to launch the service will have a tremendous first-mover advantage and can potentially capture market share from its rivals.
“Today, the main (reason) people change operators is the experience; pricing is becoming less of an issue.
“So depending on their strategies, WiFi calling can help telcos capture market share,” he added.
Operators can also potentially grow revenue with WiFi calling should they decide to offer it as a value-added service, Barros said.
Besides ensuring that their core networks are IP-ready, operators would also need to put in place other systems before they can start offering WiFi calling services.
These include a WiFi Media Gateway which allows communication between the WiFi network and the mobile operator’s network; a home subscriber server (HSS); and an IP Multimedia sub-system (IMS) which allows voice calls to be converted into IP data.
Benefits of WiFi calling
WiFi calling promises benefits to both consumers and operators, according to Barros.
Consumers would be able to enjoy better voice call quality when their device is connected to a WiFi network, especially important for those who live in high-rise condominiums or apartments where cellular network coverage can be spotty.
They will also be able to save on roaming costs when they travel abroad. With WiFi calling, they can potentially make hours of phone calls and send volumes of text messages on their devices for free.
Barros acknowledged that consumers can already do this various mobile apps, but argued that WiFi calling is more convenient.
“It’s a seamless experience for users,” he said.
For mobile operators, having WiFi calling means that all WiFi hotspots can potentially serve as their base stations. It would also help them deliver better indoor cellular coverage to users, which in turn, could boost customer loyalty.
A study by Ericsson’s ConsumerLab, WiFi calling finds its voice: Assessing its impact on communication behaviour, found that twice as many smartphone users make voice calls and send texts indoors compared with outdoors.
However, globally, just four in 10 are satisfied with their indoor connectivity experience.
The report also showed that the experience of uninterrupted service drove satisfaction within four out of five existing WiFi calling users in the United States who are also frequent international travellers.
“This leads to better consumer loyalty and advocacy — 61 per cent of WiFi calling users polled said they now make longer and more frequent voice calls,” said Barros.
The Ericsson ConsumerLab research was conducted on consumers who own smartphones and have travelled internationally at least once in the past 12 months.
The online survey polled 5,000 smartphone users in Brazil, Egypt, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, including 200 existing WiFi calling users from the United States. — Digital News Asia
This article was first published here.