Despite the rise in usage of WiFi Calling, and of over-the-top services from WiFi handsets, concerns remain about quality of service in unlicensed spectrum, especially when users are outside the well-controlled environment of a home or enterprise WLAN.
Republic Wireless, one of the US’s clutch of WiFi-first MVNOs, claims to be addressing that issue with a technique called Bonded Calling. Its engineers have developed technology which senses WiFi network conditions and responds to issues by patching the gaps in a WiFi call using cellular back-up.
This fits well with the WiFi-first ethos – in which users default to WiFi but are transferred seamlessly to cellular connections when the WiFi signal is poor (they only pay fees when they are moved to cellular, but the operator’s MVNO costs are minimized).
But Republic’s solution goes beyond simply handing the user off to the cellular voice network every time there is a WiFi issue. Instead, the system intelligently chooses moments to patch a call across both networks, so that cellular data can fill in the performance gaps. Republic reports a 75% reduction in help tickets related to WiFi call quality since introducing Bonded Calling to its handsets, particularly because the risk of a call dropping during handover to cellular is removed.
Republic Wireless’s COO Chris Chuang told FierceWireless: “Think of it as if you’re driving down the road of WiFi and there’s a pothole. Previously, you had to switch lanes to cellular to avoid the pothole. Now we’re essentially patching the pothole dynamically in real time” with bits of cellular data.
The WiFi-first model has had a disruptive effect on several mobile markets, including the US and France. However, it has pitfalls for start-ups, especially as larger players like T-Mobile USA start to use the approach too – as seen in Scratch Wireless’s recent withdrawal of its services for new users. However, other pioneers are thriving – provided they are able to invest heavily to differentiate their offerings on more than just price. FreedomPop has been engaged in an international expansion drive following an investment round which included Intel last year; while Republic is focusing on technology innovation to enhance the user experience. The company has been granted more than 30 patents around seamless connectivity, including smooth approaches to handover, ‘always best connected’ intelligence, and now call patching.
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