Reliance Jio has informed the Indian government that it is soon going to roll out WiFi calling, Telecom Tiger reports. Airtel and Vodafone are also planning to roll it out in coming months. This comes only a few weeks after the telecom department announced a rule change that let telcos do this. So how exactly is WiFi calling new? What is it?

What is WiFi calling?

WiFi calling — or VoWiFi (voice over WiFi) — is different from services like Skype and WhatsApp calling. It lets mobile operators use any broadband connection to make calls to any phone number. Unlike Skype and WhatsApp, this doesn’t require people to have the same app — you can call any regular phone number over your WiFi connection without installing anything else. Many smartphones released in the last five years support WiFi calling.

This is called a Generic Access Network, where the public switched telephone network (PSTN) that most telcos use can be accessed through the internet. Carriers will be able to make apps for devices that don’t support WiFi calling natively — this is similar to how Jio has an app to place VoLTE calls on smartphones that don’t support that standard.

Why WiFi calling is important

A General Access Network lets users continue to have access to make calls without having to have a cell tower nearby. In addition to covering places with bad cell reception, the existence of WiFi calling incentivizes the rollout of more public WiFi hotspots. This works out better even for carriers since the per-subscriber cost of installing a tower is higher than that of a WiFi hotspot. This encourages more users to get on public WiFi, especially in rural areas where the cell tower coverage is significantly worse than in urban areas. This then feeds into a virtuous cycle where more people get on WiFi and more hotspots are rolled out.

This technology also makes it easier on telcos who have subscribers in buildings whose design diminishes the reach of cell towers. Now residents only need to be connected to a WiFi network indoors, and their cell connectivity problems essentially disappear.

But WiFi calling won’t be the magic spell that resolves all issues that people have in connecting to their telco’s network. After all, it needs users to have access to WiFi in the first place, and not to mention a handset that supports WiFi. Only 36% of Indian internet users use a smartphone.