Norway’s Hello has become one of the first companies to launch a converged Wi-Fi and cellular voice service, the company said.
To use the service, customers must purchase a Qtek phone, made by HTC, that runs Windows Mobile and supports voice over both Wi-Fi and cellular networks. Users can move between Wi-Fi and cellular networks without losing their calls, thanks to software from Cicero Networks that comes loaded on the phone. The software on the handset communicates with a back-end controller, also supplied by Cicero, to support the handoff between networks. The service was launched Monday.
Hello resells airtime from two Norwegian mobile operators and launched its first mobile services in April.
Some enterprise customers are interested in such converged services because mobile phone users can cut their cellular bills by using Wi-Fi networks instead when they’re available. Only a few combined phones are on the market, but Nokia’s long-awaited ESeries phones, aimed at enterprises and supporting Wi-Fi and cellular and the Session Initiation Protocol standard, are expected to hit the market soon.
Hello offers two pricing plans, including one where users pay a set monthly fee plus a per-minute fee that differs depending on whether they’re using the Wi-Fi or cellular networks.
“We have least-cost routing,” said Matthias Peter, chief operating officer for Hello. That means if a user is in range of both a Wi-Fi and cellular network, the Cicero software will route the call based on the cheapest rate for the caller. That’s important in Norway, where cellular-to-cellular calling can sometimes be cheaper than fixed line to cellular, Peter said.
While many operators around the world have trialed converged Wi-Fi and cellular offerings, few have launched them. Many of the trials have used the unlicensed mobile access (UMA) technology that is preferred by mobile operators because it allows them to better control how customers use the networks and pay for access. BT Group’s Fusion service, which lets consumers make voice calls over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connections while in their homes, uses the UMA standard.
Cicero said that 35 service providers across Europe are testing its offering, which is based on the SIP standard and competes with UMA.
-Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service
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