With an FCC (News - Alert) approval this month for Verizon, all of the Big 4 wireless carriers are planning to roll out Wi-Fi calling services. The move dovetails with their continued buildouts of Wi-Fi data networks to complement their 3G and 4G footprints. When it comes to the impact on channel partners’ businesses, the move is likely to have few negative consequences—but the technology could offer more business revenue down the line.
Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWIFI) allows users to place voice calls via the Wi-Fi network instead of the cellular WAN—a function that offloads voice traffic from carrier networks, freeing up bandwidth for more lucrative data applications and communications.
Some channel partners are concerned that the move will impact their businesses, as a lower-tariffed service, but many say there should be little cause for alarm. The switch to VoWiFi will be something that happens seamlessly for customers—they will continue to make calls via the native voice dialing feature on their phones. And it shouldn’t affect existing voice plans, as many carriers offer unlimited minutes to customers and will continue to do so, no matter how those calls are delivered.
"I don’t think [Wi-Fi calling] makes a world of difference to us, and I can't imagine it makes much of a difference to other solutions providers out there, either," Patrick Lee, business development executive for Morristown, N.J.-based Alliant Technologies, a solution provider and AT&T (News - Alert) partner, said in a recent interview.
He added, "At the end of the day, a call may leave your cellphone to a cell tower, or leave your home off of a copper wire, but as soon as it hits a switch, it'll be on the IP network," Lee said. "Wi-Fi calling might be more a consumer play … but carriers have already gone that route. It's just now they are trying to extend that out [to] the edges."
There could be some upside for partners on the business side though, because VoWiFi is expected to extend beyond the mobile carrier segment as well. Comcast (News - Alert) for instance has said that it would be executing a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) relationship with Verizon to enable its own Wi-Fi calling service. That will allow it to extend its home and business calling plans with an on-the-go service—a feature that Comcast could leverage to increase ARPU and, potentially, commissions for partners. And given that cable MSOs in general have spent millions to build out their Wi-Fi hotspot footprints, it’s a model that others may soon follow.
"We are seeing a dramatic increase in businesses going exclusively to wireless phone usage instead of desk phones and we are seeing more deployments of hosted voice over IP and unified communications as a service solutions that don’t even have any handsets anymore," said Andrew Pryfogle, senior vice president of cloud transformation for Intelisys, a Petaluma, Calif.-based master agent.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson