Long term partners Taqua and Kineto Wireless are to merge, to exploit the rising carrier interest in voice over WiFi. Taqua, whose main product is a virtual mobile core, will acquire its fixed/mobile convergence ally. Together, they provide an end-to-end voice over WiFi platform that does not require an IMS, as VoLTE does.
As such, they claim to support a lighter approach to 4G and IP voice than VoLTE, for the large number of operators which are cautious about the big investment and disruption required to deploy an IMS solution. Taqua’s CEO, Eric Pratt, said: “With the VoWiFi market set to take off and many operators looking for an end-to-end solution, we decided to solidify our partnership with Kineto. By combining the companies we can now offer mobile service providers a truly disruptive solution that enables the rapid, cost effective deployment of Wi-Fi Calling services.”
That partnership was seen in action when the two firms were included in Sprint’s WiFi Calling roll-out program, which began in February. Since then, this approach – which can support greater carrier control and quality of service than over-the-top alternatives, but without the heavy lifting of VoLTE – received a shot in the arm when Apple announced support as part of the latest iOS release.
Together, the two players support an end-to-end WiFi voice platform, with Taqua providing the core network capabilities and Kineto offering the client software.
The client can be downloaded by end users or embedded into devices by OEMs. It then automatically routes voice traffic over a user’s WiFi or cellular network depending on network signal or other criteria set by the operator. Taqua’s VoWiFi virtual mobile core, launched in June, allows users to make these calls with their native dialer, rather than a special application.
As well as potentially deferring a VoLTE investment, even if a carrier wants to reduce or switch off 2G/3G cellular coverage, routing voice over WiFi can be part of a broader traffic management strategy, designed to reduce strain on the cellular network (voice, even over IP, is hardly a major consideration here, but many operators aim to keep their core voice offerings attractive by adding other communications options such as video calling, which would be more of a burden to the network).
WiFi Calling, and even WiFi First (which routes everything over the unlicensed network, to save on cellular costs, unless WiFi is out of range), were initially seen as tools for fixed line providers, reducing their reliance on expensive MVNO deals. However, several cellcos are adopting these approaches to cut their overall network costs, including Sprint and T-Mobile USA.
The latter has always been an enthusiast for wireless and fixed/mobile convergence, and has been a significant customer and supporter for Kineto over the years. It has offered a voice over WiFi service since 2007, based on the start-up’s software, though like Sprint, it chooses not to enable the cellular hand-off feature.
It has seemed to be Kineto’s fate to invent useful solutions which turned out to be short term stop-gaps, rather quickly overtaken by more heavyweight 3GPP standards. That was seen in UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access), which was an early stab at WiFi First, and was incorporated into the 3GPP GAN specifications – but made very little direct revenue for its creator. Kineto tried again with VoLGA, which was supposed to be a superior alternative to circuit switched fallback when a voice user was out of the area of LTE coverage. However, various CSFB-based approaches prevailed.
In both cases, despite TMo’s backing, there was insufficient operator support for the innovations to make them a mainstream part of the armory. But with the new interest in bringing WiFi into the heart of the mobile network, and even prioritizing it over cellular for many types of traffic, the concepts underlying UMA and VoLGA (and some of the technologies within them) are coming into their own, and should finally yield some serious business for Kineto and its new parent.
The two companies said they would also benefit from combining their patent portfolios in this area of technology, as well as their expertise and teams. All employees have been retained, except for Kineto CEO Jeff Brown and CFO Martin Hernandez, who have both left.