If there’s one device I believe will one day replace the office phone it’s the highly intelligent multi-purpose smartphone; and no, I don’t believe the office phone system is dead, in fact, the phone system is central to the overall voice strategy. The phone sets importance will diminish over time though as the smartphone gradually replaces its function. Features like twinning, Fixed Mobility Convergence (FMC), and cell phone WiFi / base station hopping will help move the market in that direction.
This brings me to the purpose of this article: There are two technologies which will allow you to WiFi enable your cell phone. Here’s a few scenarios to highlight how the feature works followed by an interview I conducted with Rogers:
You receive a phone call on your cell on your way back to the office. Once you walk into your office, which has perfect in-building WiFi coverage, your cellphone call continues on the WiFi network without either party even knowing that the call has just jumped from cellular to WiFi.
You receive poor cell phone coverage in your warehouse, but the in building WiFi is perfect. A cellphone call comes in, but rather than ringing through your cell network as a toll call, the call arrives through your in-building WiFi; call quality is perfect with no contract minutes being used.
You are working at home with a perfect in-home WiFi network. You need to make a call from your cell, but, rather than use the cell network the call gets placed on your WiFi network with complete toll bypass (i.e. no cell minutes used). You continue the call on your way out of your home as the call hops from the in-home WiFi to your cell network.
There are two (2) options which I will review that will allow for the above technologies to happen: 1) In building Fixed Mobility Convergence solution (which I will describe in greater detail in a few weeks, and 2) A recently introduced solution from Rogers Wireless.
While the announcement from Rogers regarding this new feature was enough to pique my curiosity, the release left me with far more questions than answers. In an effort to clarify Rogers new service I conducted a phone interview with Rogers employee Mike Harvey, which will hopefully clarify this new feature and guide you in the right direction on their website for more product information.
While I’m posting this interview verbatim in hopes of helping us all better understand this new feature, I have highlighted the key points.
Jeff Wiener: Rogers recently introduced the new cell WiFi hopping. Can you please explain the feature and describe how it could works?
Mike Harvey: WiFi calling is the name we put it under. So, basically leveraging UMA functionality to be able to have a call with Wi-Fi or over GSM and to be able to hand the call to the Rogers core network and back and forth to the Wi-Fi network.
JW: When you say UMA, what does UMA mean?
MH: Unlicensed Mobile Access, it’s just a standard.
JW: I’m still not clear, the answer that you’ve given so far is still very vague. So, let’s say I am using an iPhone and I happen to be on the Rogers network. I’m out in the middle of the street on a call and walk into the office. Will my cell phone call hop from the Rogers 3G network to the in office Wi-Fi network?
MH: This is the right notion, but let’s take a step back. The technology right now is specific for BlackBerry so the UMA technology or the Wi-Fi calling technology is embedded within the handheld code in the BlackBerry devices. So, for example, popular devices such as the 9800 and the 9780 or the 9700 – all come pre-installed with the capability inside the handheld code.
And then the handheld code basically allows the device to setup a VPN tunnel from the device through the public internet over WiFi to the Rogers UMA Gateway, which in essence is a VPN concentrator. So, you are setting up a VPN tunnel between the two and you are encapsulating the traffic, for example, between the handheld device and the Rogers core network via the UMA gateway. Once it passes through the UMA gateway, it is basically in what we called the Rogers cloud and then Rogers can hand it off to this core GSM network.
So, basically what’s happening is Rogers is maintaining state between the handset over WiFi and over the GSM network and it will toggle back and forth seamlessly depending on the signal quality. So, if you set your device for WiFi preferred, it will automatically connect over UMA if you are setup for that, and when you move out of WiFi coverage, it will toggle back to GSM. So if I started my call inside the house and then I walked into my car, somewhere between the front door and my car, the call will handover from the UMA WiFi call to the GSM network and then I can continue on my merry way and vice-versa. So, does that help?
JW: Absolutely. When are you opening this up to other customers or customers with other devices – Android, iPhone, Symbian?
MH: That’s a good question. So, currently it’s only on BlackBerry. There are other leading vendors out there in the marketplace that supply software for example, on the Android platform. If I look south to the U.S. or east to Europe, I would look at companies like Orange or T-Mobile and they are actually now deploying Wi-Fi calling on the Android OS. That’s very similar nature to the infrastructure that I described for Rogers. So, that would be a logical direction. Rogers has not made any public statements regarding that, I’m just saying when I’m look at marketplace as a whole, there’s technology on the Android OS. Till date, there’s nothing available on the iPhone.
JW: So sometime in the future you’d expect it will be available on Android and a big question mark on the iPhone side.
MH: Yes and I’ll just describe to you why. The way that the software works – it’s not just an application that sits up at Layer 7. It actually sits a little deeper into the stack; the software has to be able to talk to the WiFi radio module and the GSM radio module. Because, it needs to be able to talk to the radio, you need access to those APIs. So, if there are no developer APIs available, then you can’t create the WiFi calling app. You can’t get access to the radios to be able to toggle back and forth between them.
JW: I know there are other FMC providers that do make the Layer 7 hand-off for the iPhone. I believe it’s not completely seamless though, it requires the user to manually skip from Wi-Fi to cell and vice versa by pressing a button, but, it does exist. Is this something Rogers would consider as a work around?
MH: You are suggesting using another piece of software like a femtocell?
JW: No. Not a femotcell. There are manufacturers of fixed mobility convergence hardware which have created work around that will allow for iPhone and Android compliance. Not sure how it’s done, perhaps though an App, but, I know it does exist.
MH: It depends on the implementation details and it always gets down to the software technology, the hooks that aren’t available. But it might just depend on their implementation.
JW: Let’s move on to the pricing element. How does Rogers charge for this service for BlackBerry users?
MH: We have 3 plans that are available. We have an Access only add-on, so you basically have a base plan and its all add-ons if you want. You can either add it on for a month; you don’t have to subscribe for a lifetime. So, you can add on a $5 access only or you can add on for a $10 unlimited local calling or you can add on a $15 unlimited Canada-wide. So, each of those add-ons are just a feature.
JW: And that’s it, so $15 for Canada unlimited – you pay the one time $15 a month charge and that’s it?
MH: Right. So, whenever you are in Wi-Fi calling, you make the call from WiFi and then it’s rated as unlimited calling and it’s for incoming calls as well. And the way we rate, let’s say you started your call on WiFi and you switched over to GSM, we actually rate the call that’s initiated in WiFi as a WiFi call.
We don’t change the rating mid-stream and that would be vice-versa. If you started the call on GSM and you roved into WiFi, we’d still rate it in GSM call.
JW: So, you are on a two (2) minute WiFi call to China and then you step out of the office and you continue the call for half an hour, that’s still a free GSM call?
MH: That’s correct, but we need to be careful about the China part because that’s an LD call outside of Canada and unlimited Canada-wide calling is different.
But if you said you are calling Vancouver, the answer would be yes.
We’ve got a white paper if you are interested in that.
JW: Sure. I will provide a link for the readers of TheTelecomBlog.com. Are you selling this actively?
MH: The product is in market today.
JW: How are you marketing it?
MH: Have you heard the radio ad? There’s a small business campaign that’s underway right now. The whitepaper that Miranda mentioned is one of the things that is in the campaign as well as all sorts of other advertising pieces. I’ll be interested in your feedback on the whitepaper.
JW: Yeah, totally. Actually, I think I see it here – “WiFi Calling for Business and Executive Overview”. Is that the white paper?
MH: There’s actually two. There’s one that’s grander and there’s one that’s for small business focus.
JW: So, I’ll point customers to the whitepaper on your site.
MH: Jeff, I’d love to add one other point. Since you’re technical in nature and you understand the core technology, not only do you encapsulate the voice traffic through that tunnel, you also are able to send your SMS and MMS through that tunnel.
So the advantage would be, if I were a doctor and if I work in the sub-basement of a building, I would still get my pages as text messages.
JW: Or even better – if you’re working in a warehouse where there’s no cell coverage, you could now provide proper cell coverage or calling coverage to those individuals that don’t have proper cell coverage. Are your competitors selling this too?
MH: No, it’s a Rogers’s differentiator. It’s based on the Rogers core backbone network. So, it’s difficult for competitors to replicate identically.
JW: So, the answer is “Not Yet”?
MH: Yes, I wouldn’t expect them to replicate it the same way, because I would expect them to spend their dollars on newer technology like AKLTE and other things.
JW: Thanks for your time Mike.
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