French mobile operator Bouygues Telecom said that its voice and SMS over Wi-Fi services are now available more widely, at no extra charge, as the list of compatible smartphones has expanded to include more models. The operator began offering voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) to its enterprise customers in September 2017 and first introduced SMS over Wi-Fi on selected handsets last year. The two services are now available to all the operator’s mobile customers and on more phone brands, including Apple, Samsung, Huawei/Honor, Sony and OnePlus.
Once customers have activated voice/SMS over Wi-Fi, they can call or send/receive text messages (but not MMS) over any Wi-Fi network. This happens automatically when mobile coverage is not available or too weak. Any calls and texts are treated according to the allowance included in the customer’s mobile plan.
Wi-Fi’s utility in terms of filling in when cellular signals are weak or unavailable is well known, of course, but that applies to data use in most cases. Voice and SMS over Wi-Fi is far less prevalent and requires special device compatibility to work. Bouygues has apparently determined that its initial offering of the service was a success and sees a greater market for it.
The rollout of the service was to enterprise clients only, which makes sense as a first foray because enterprises are likely to have large numbers of employees working in complex structures where cellular signal may be blocked. Alternately, employees in the field may encounter challenging conditions that impede cellular service in other ways. In either case, these employees would still need to continue communicating with each other and with outside clients; therefore voice and text over Wi-Fi is an excellent backstop.
Having seen that it worked well, presumably, and found favor with business customers, Bouygues now is ready to offer it to consumers, as well. The increase in the number of compatible devices is a key factor in this expansion, because while a large company may be willing to invest in devices to issue to its employees, consumers inevitably will be making diverse choices in this regard. Not until a critical mass of different devices are compatible will it make sense to offer voice and SMS over Wi-Fi. This, apparently, has finally occurred, so the time is ripe for a consumer-targeted expansion.
As far as pricing is concerned, voice and SMS over Wi-Fi is not analogous to Wi-Fi data. Consumers may be disappointed if they imagine that voice over Wi-Fi is free (if one has unlimited data) or only counts against their data allowance. Bouygues intends to charge for calls and texts sent over the Wi-Fi service—or count them against voice and text allowances—as if they were made over cellular. As long as the operator describes and markets the service appropriately so that customers are aware that the purpose of the service is to ensure connectivity rather than to save money, this should not be a problem.