Wireless carrier Sprint is working as hard as it can to steal customers from its competition. The company’s latest move targets iPhone users who are annoyed with spotty cellular coverage or want to stretch their data plans a little farther.
On Wednesday, Sprint paved the way for iPhone customers on any of its service plans to make high-quality calls over Wi-Fi using their own phone numbers. That will turn some heads, seeing as Wi-Fi-enabled calls are usually from random numbers that don’t match users' devices. A Sprint software update will make it possible for Sprint to expand both coverage and connectivity options for customers through "Wi-Fi Calling" for iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s.
“Wi-Fi Calling is like a major expansion of our network, allowing Sprint customers to get coverage anywhere they have Wi-Fi connectivity,” said David Owens, senior vice president of product development for Sprint. “Traditional wireless technology has some limitations in places like basements and high-rise office buildings. Wi-Fi expands our customer’s connectivity in a big way.”
It’s Just About Everywhere
According to global Wi-Fi roaming provider iPass, there are over 9 billion commercial hotspots in the United States. That’s a 2,521 percent growth over 2013. Essentially, Wi-Fi is just about everywhere. You can tap into a Wi-Fi hot spot in coffee shops, bookstores, airports, restaurants, hair salons, sporting venues and schools.
Of course, communications over a Wi-Fi network don’t count against minute or data limits on rate plans on any wireless carrier. It’s free, which makes it an attractive alternative, especially for consumers who do not have unlimited Wi-Fi or are heavy video watchers. This is a real boon for those who travel internationally. The Wi-Fi calling service lets consumer call the U.S. from over 200 countries.
With Sprint’s Wi-Fi calling feature, customers can access Wi-Fi networks to talk and use data when cellular service is spotty. Sprint compared the option to adding thousands of new cellular towers overnight.
Better Than Apps?
We asked Jeff Kagan, an independent technology analyst, for his thoughts on Sprint’s latest market move. He told us Wi-Fi calling seems like a next, natural step for the wireless industry.
“Yesterday we could only make calls over the cellular network,” Kagan said. “Then apps that let you talk over the wireless data network rather than the cellular network started to enter the scene.”
Indeed, there is no lack of Wi-Fi calling apps on the market. Viber, Vonage Mobile, WhatsApp, Skype and others have emerged as popular choices. Some of the market options are free, others are paid. Sprint is wrapping Wi-Fi calling into its service plan as a bonus feature.
“There are many benefits to this including better quality connection in building, lower costs and so on,” Kagan said. “What's good to see is Sprint is really becoming an innovator in the industry.”