Sprint Corp. is offering Apple Inc. iPhone customers free Wi-Fi calling, a lower-cost voice feature that’s available at smaller carriers including T-Mobile US Inc. and will soon be offered by new entrants such as Google Inc.
Sprint will send customers a software update this month that gives their iPhones the ability to make calls when they are within the reach of hotspots or Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi calling gives Sprint broader coverage in areas such as buildings where mobile signals can’t reach. Calls placed via Wi-Fi won’t be billed by the minute or count against a data plan, Sprint said.
The spread of Wi-Fi networks has given consumers cheap alternatives to cellular services. Wi-Fi-focused carriers such as Republic Wireless, Scratch Wireless Inc. and FreedomPop offer calling plans at a fraction of those from larger carriers.
Wi-Fi calling has limitations, particularly when users lose connections as they move from one network to another. Still, that hasn’t discouraged efforts by Google and Cablevision Systems Corp. to bring Wi-Fi calling to the market. Google is preparing a wireless service using Wi-Fi and is working with Sprint to bring connectivity to limited areas in the U.S.
Mark Elliott, a spokesman for Overland Park, Kansas-based Sprint, said the Wi-Fi feature “enhances our iPhone customers’ experience.” Elliott declined to comment on Google.