Wi-Fi Calling Can Connect Operators to Better Profitability

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As more and more global operators look for answers to increase their customer bonding, Wi-Fi Calling is emerging as one big transformational strategy that can enhance customer retention and drive better profitability for CSPs and telecom operators.

With its firmly entrenched SMP Wi-Fi Calling solution, Aptilo Networks is now on the forefront of enabling this transformation for the operators. Johan Terve, VP Marketing, Aptilo Networks speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the potential and challenges on Wi-Fi Calling and how it can script a better future for operators.

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How and why can next generation mobile operators look at Wi-Fi calling as a friend to retain and stick to their customers today?

Next-generation Wi-Fi calling is all about customer retention. People are ditching their landlines in droves, relying instead on their mobile phones for calls. If indoor cellular coverage is poor, as it generally is especially in modern buildings, users will switch to a carrier that allows them to make calls over Wi-Fi. Since Wi-Fi is pretty much everywhere users go and literally everybody has it in their homes, the convenience factor is high.

Aside from phone calls, most mobile data traffic is already going over Wi-Fi. Analysts predict that 85% of mobile data traffic will be going over Wi-Fi by 2018. Carriers must capture users where they are, and they’re on Wi-Fi networks most of their time. If carriers can’t offer users the services they want, they will jump ship.

How mature are Wi-Fi calling applications from a technology standpoint? Can businesses rely on it too?

Wi-Fi calling has been around for some time, so the technology is quite mature. However, today’s solution – next-generation Wi-Fi calling with native support in the device – makes it even more reliable, with a better user experience. Reliability and a great user experience will bring carriers new customers and reduce churn.

Businesses can and should support today’s Wi-Fi calling solutions by having a carrier-class Wi-Fi network available on their property. With a Wi-Fi network available on-site, the problem of poor indoor coverage is solved. Users can be reachable anywhere, anytime, via Wi-Fi. It’s just good business sense.

What is the big value proposition that Wi-Fi calling brings for the operator community?

For operators, Wi-Fi calling is a powerful opportunity to retain customers. According to Tefficient, the cost of churn and churn prevention is around 15-20% of mobile service revenue. For a tier-1 operator with $10 billion in revenue, that is a $1.5-2.0B loss.

Wi-Fi calling also helps in the customer acquisition game, as users will gravitate to carriers that offer them the best coverage. Since there are no roaming costs for an operator in Wi-Fi Calling, they can offer roaming users the same call rates as if they were at home. This will attract people that are frequently traveling and kill the use of over-the-top applications such as Skype for voice. The operator will be back in the driver’s seat again. Additionally, Wi-Fi calling means reduced infrastructure costs as carriers need fewer base stations for the same voice coverage.

Please share details of your Wi-Fi calling business strategy and also share with us some cases where your Wi-Fi calling solution is implemented?

We have everything to do with the authentication and policy control of the Wi-Fi Calling service. You can refer to us as “the key” to Wi-Fi Calling. Seamless user authentication is the key to successful Wi-Fi calling deployments. Aptilo SMP Wi-Fi Calling™ enables rapid, secure authentication of users via the SIM card in the phone and applies policies to the Wi-Fi Calling service.

It’s still the early days for Wi-Fi Calling. So far only three operators worldwide have announced their next-generation Wi-Fi Calling services, none of those are our customers. However, we are engaged in many trials and the market is really very hot right now.

In the 100+ deployments that we have done on the carrier Wi-Fi data service side, we have found that we often need to come up with innovative solutions that go beyond standards to make things work smoothly in real-word deployments. We think that Wi-Fi Calling will be no exception. Aptilo SMP Wi-Fi Calling adds “smarts” such as intelligent policy decisions based on input from multiple sources and support for non-SIM devices. Our customers also love us for being vendor-agnostic which means that they can choose the best products for every situation instead of being stuck with a turn-key vendor.

How can this kind of application increase the innovative quotient as well as increase monetization for the operator community today?

Wi-Fi Calling is not a technology breakthrough, as mentioned before it’s been possible to make Voice over IP Calls using Wi-Fi networks for many years. The reason that Wi-Fi Calling is important right now is that many service providers are changing their business models. Many of them are charging a monthly flat fee for the voice services. On top of this many operators have reduced the roaming charges to very low levels. There is simply no voice revenue to protect anymore.

The monetization of Wi-Fi Calling is mostly about customer retention and cost saving in the cellular CAPEX and OPEX. There is some additional revenue to make for operators that are still charging calls per minute, increased coverage will mean more minutes for the same user.

There are many operators who do not have much of an investment in Wi-Fi – how can they benefit from Wi-Fi calling? Typically what is the kind of investment required to initiate Wi-Fi calling from an operator’s standpoint?

The irony here is that Wi-Fi Calling really has nothing to do with Wi-Fi from the operator’s point of view. Since Wi-Fi Calling can transparently be used over any Wi-Fi network, including subscribers’ home networks, the operator can do Wi-Fi Calling without installing a single Wi-Fi access point.

At the same time we have noticed that the interest from operators to deploy Wi-Fi-only has increased further since Wi-Fi Calling was introduced. I think it is because when Wi-Fi entered into the very core of the mobile operators’ operations, the voice services, the last argument fell for those advocating that cellular services were the only technology carrier-grade enough.

They have started to realize that Wi-Fi is a perfect complement to cellular for additional capacity and indoor coverage and the best insurance policy an operator can get to protect their core business in a Wi-Fi-centric world.

The investment to deploy Wi-Fi Calling is low for an operator with an existing IMS and plans to deploy Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE). All they have to do is to add gateways, so called ePDG gateways, which terminate the IPsec tunnels from the device. They also need to add a 3GPP AAA such as Aptilo SMP Wi-Fi Calling to handle the authentication and authorization of the Wi-Fi Calling service.

What kind of challenges lie ahead toward the bigger adoption of Wi-Fi calling?

Next-generation Wi-Fi Calling requires that the operators have an IMS infrastructure. This can be a huge investment for smaller operators and for virtual operators (MVNO). However, there are some IMS vendors that offer software-based IMS for a reasonable price and I think that we will soon see cloud-based IMS as a service for smaller operators.

Another challenge right now is of course device support. Currently only the iPhone 6 and some new Samsung Galaxy models have support for next-generation Wi-Fi Calling with native support in the device and automatic transfer of the call to and from VoLTE. However, this issue will solve itself over the next 18-24 months. Meanwhile there is a possibility to use a Wi-Fi Calling app in the devices that lack support.

What kind of growth do you expect coming from this segment in the coming months?

From discussions with existing customers and in looking at new RFPs, we see demand for next-generation Wi-Fi Calling solutions ramping up substantially. I think that most mobile operators with an existing IMS will have launched a Wi-Fi Calling service within the next 18 months.


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