Optus has announced the launch of voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) services across its network, allowing customers with voice over LTE (VoLTE)-compatible handsets to use their home Wi-Fi network for voice calling in the absence of mobile coverage.
Currently, the only Optus VoLTE-enabled devices are the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, although the telecommunications provider said it is planning to bring more devices on board in future.
"Wi-Fi calling allows customers to stay connected if mobile coverage is limited when they are out and about, at home, or in the office but have access to a Wi-Fi connection," Dennis Wong, acting managing director of Optus Networks, explained.
"When Wi-Fi calling is switched on, the device automatically detects and seamlessly switches to an available Wi-Fi connection to use voice and messaging services."
Optus said VoWiFi is different from its WiFi Talk app, launched in August 2015, in that it involves using inbuilt smartphone technology where a device is itself VoLTE enabled, rather than the user installing an app.
The "WiFi Talk" app was spruiked as an alternative to such VoIP apps as Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime, with the advantage of using a customer's existing phone number.
Optus' announcement follows Telstra's launch of the VoWiFi capability in June 2016.
Telstra activated its VoLTE capability in September 2015, saying it would provide high-definition voice and video calling, as well as faster call set-up times and fewer dropouts, for customers with compatible handsets to use in 4G areas. The telco at the time also demonstrated VoWiFi capabilities, to which 4G devices on a VoLTE call can transition when in range of a Wi-Fi network.
Telstra's video over LTE (ViLTE) capability was due to launch in the second half of 2016, but Australia's incumbent telco has not provided an update on this.
"Early ViLTE trials within Telstra have shown the benefits of high-quality face-to-face communication, and the rollout of ViLTE will provide an enhanced video-calling experience, which we are confident our customers will enjoy," Mike Wright, Telstra Group managing director of Networks, said in February.
In addition, Vodafone Australia said in April last year that it would be launching VoWiFi in the near future -- but has not made an announcement of the actual launch since then.
"Voice over Wi-Fi seems like a gadget, but in reality, it's much more than that. I think that voice over Wi-Fi will make possible to extend the Vodafone network to any place where the device is and there's Wi-Fi coverage anywhere in the world," Vodafone CEO Inaki Berroeta said in April 2016.
"I really think this is a significant technology breakthrough for the customer."
According to the Productivity Commission's draft report into the universal service obligation (USO) released in December, Optus' mobile network covers 15.6 percent of Australia's landmass; Vodafone's accounts for only 7.5 percent of Australia; and Telstra covers over 31 percent of the landmass with its mobile network.
Optus has been looking to boost its mobile coverage across Australia, however, by using small cells over the last few months -- in eleven locations in the Northern Territory and South Australia, nine locations in Western Australia, and 12 regions in the Northern Territory.
The small cells utilise Optus' satellite services rather than the telecommunications carrier having to build out additional mobile towers. The technology provides mobile phone coverage to up to 3km surrounding the cell, and is used in regional and remote areas where it is not economically viable to build out mobile infrastructure.
"We are investing significantly to strengthen and broaden our mobile network coverage in regional areas, and this rollout is a natural progression following the small cell infrastructure that was successfully delivered in the Northern Territory earlier this year," Wong said earlier this week.
"We've seen that this technology delivers a choice in mobile services for workers and residents in and around key locations, as well as providing for visitors, making it a vital improvement to our network in remote regions."