Verizon Wireless Finally Offers Wi-Fi Calling

Verizon Wireless, the biggest wireless telecommunications provider in America, will finally get ready to do what other U.S. carriers -- T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T Mobility -- have been doing: offer their customers wi-fi calling. Verizon will be accommodating hearing and speech-impaired users through their recently acquired temporary Federal Communications Commission exemption from rules which require voice over wi-fi, a waiver similar to the one AT&T Mobility requested. While all of these carriers are now offering wi-fi calling, each one will be approaching the option in a different way.

The most recent versions of Apple's iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus' wi-fi calling are also being supported by AT&T Mobility. T-Mobile and Sprint are offering the same service on select Android-powered phones. Since wi-fi calling does not support TTY systems for hearing impaired calls, carriers are required to file for an FCC waiver to allow the feature. Verizon's FCC waiver will expire on December 31, 2017. Apparently, Verizon has yet to announce when they will officially launch their wi-fi calling component, nor have they stated whether or not wi-fi calls will be free for those who are paying for voice minutes. Sprint and AT&T Mobility do not charge for wi-fi calling, though T-Mobile will count wi-fi voice calls against monthly minutes for anyone who is using their Simple Choice plans, even with most of those plans offering unlimited calling minutes.

Verizon Wireless has a pretty healthy advantage when it comes to voice over wi-fi, due to the size of their LTE network. In addition to that, Verizon manages to uphold good coverage throughout the nation, and its roaming agreements with rural operators keeps their users connected in parts of the country that are sparsely populated. However, since the FCC is unsure as to how exactly Verizon will be moving away from TTY, they have made additional requirements. As part of the waiver -- which was requested in late October according to ZDNet -- Verizon will have to divulge specific future plans, leaving them with a 90 day time frame to do so.
"While Verizon's petition asserts its commitment to develop and deploy an interoperable accessibility solution for the IP environment during the waiver period, to date we have not seen specific evidence of Verizon's plans for developing and deploying such an accessibility solution. Therefore, in addition to the conditions included in AT&T's waiver, we require that Verizon file, within 90 days of the date of this Order, a preliminary report with the Commission describing, with greater specificity than is provided in its petition, its initial plans for meeting its commitment to develop and deploy RTT or an alternative text-based solution that is accessible, interoperable with other carriers' accessibility solutions, and backward compatible with TTY technology."
Unlike how Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile are handling the wi-fi calling feature, Verizon Wireless will have to add calls made over wi-fi to its own messaging app, Verizon Message+, for now. This means that the calling experience will not be as seamless as it can be for other carriers. When a user has stepped out of range on their home or public wireless network, for example, calls can seamlessly be transferred over to the cellular network of T-Mobile or Sprint. Users can simply use their standard phone app and the call will be placed over a local network, when wi-fi calling is enabled. The calls won't drop. Verizon's approach will not be able to do that -- its feature requires a separate app and it only works on iOS devices. Using Message+, if a user steps outside of the wi-fi network range, the call will drop.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]