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Sprint launches Wi-Fi calling, turning the Galaxy Mega, S4 Mini into IP phones

In the next few weeks, Sprint(s s) customers with a Samsung Galaxy Mega or a Galaxy S4 Mini will get an over-the-air software update that will turn their devices into IP phones – at least when they’re connected to Wi-Fi networks.

In a blog post on Friday Sprint said it has begun introducing Wi-Fi calling, starting with the two Samsung phones and gradually rolling out the capability to other devices throughout 2014. Customers who activate Wi-Fi calling (through an app that will come with the update) will be able to send and receive calls and text messages over their home and business networks and hotspots. Unlike other over-the-top VoIP and messaging services, Wi-Fi calling won’t require customers to create a new account. The service remains attached to your regular phone number.

wifi router

The service is free-of-charge, and if you happen to be a Sprint customer still on a metered minute or message plan, any Wi-Fi calls or texts won’t be deducted from your monthly buckets. While Sprint is positioning the service as an enhancement for customers that live or work in bad coverage areas, it’s also a nifty service for international travelers, who can continue to make calls to the U.S. without incurring massive roaming charges. The same doesn’t apply to calls made to international numbers. You’ll be charged regular international rates.

The only drawback is that there isn’t any seamless transition between the Wi-Fi and cellular networks. If you leave your home and the range of your Wi-Fi router while in the middle of a call, it will drop, not transfer over to Sprint’s CDMA network.

Galaxy S 4 MiniVoice-over-Wi-Fi is nothing new if you’ve owned an Android smartphone on T-Mobile’s network. T-Mobile(s tmus) has been offering Wi-Fi calling since 2006, first as service on a dedicated home router, and then as standard feature on its Android phones. So why is Sprint suddenly launching this capability now?

I suspect Sprint is paving the way for its new voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service, which will take its traditional communications services off of the 2G network and recreate them on the all-IP 4G network. Sprint has been showing signs that VoLTE is near. Last month, Sprint selected BroadSoft’s(s bsft) IP communication platforms to run enhanced applications on its future VoLTE network. Sprint is probably starting with Wi-Fi because its LTE rollout still has a ways to go before it’s complete.

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