AT&T plans to offer Wi-Fi calling in 2015

AT&T exec Ralph de la Vega also says he expects customer turnover to remain near record-low levels in the current quarter.

AT&T's Ralph de la Vega is talking up Wi-Fi calls while slamming rivals' "exploding plans." Roger Cheng/CNET

AT&T will embrace Wi-Fi calling in 2015, according to a top-level executive.

The carrier has long been a proponent of Wi-Fi and already partners with companies to offer public Wi-Fi areas for customers, noted Ralph de la Vega, CEO of the company's mobility and enterprise business.

Still, he sees Wi-Fi calling as a complement to AT&T's core service -- not as a way to boost network coverage.

"We don't have a burning desire or need for coverage," de la Vega said Friday at an investor conference. "Other operators with less coverage may pursue it more aggressively."

The comment about "other operators" is a not-so-veiled reference to T-Mobile, which made a lot of noise Wednesday about Wi-Fi calling and texting now that Apple and iPhone 6 supports the technology. When Apple threw up a slide on Wi-Fi calling at its iPhone 6 launch event on Tuesday, T-Mobile was the only US carrier that popped up.

T-Mobile, for its part, denies that its interest in Wi-Fi has to do with coverage. "Why not do it?" T-Mobile CEO John Legere said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Like T-Mobile, de la Vega said he plans to offer calls that can seamlessly hand off between the Wi-Fi network and the LTE network. But AT&T hasn't yet launched its voice over LTE service yet. Calls between the regular (non-LTE) cellular network and a Wi-Fi network tend to drop, which AT&T said isn't a great experience.

"We feel good about our nationwide network," he said.

De la Vega also said he isn't a fan of plans that offer a temporary bump in data, something he calls an "exploding plan."

"Those exploding offers -- customers hate those offers," de la Vega said Friday. "Unless they change their mind, we won't offer those kinds of promotions."

AT&T's competitors think differently. In July, T-Mobile introduced a four-line, 10GB family data plan, although each line would lose 1.5GB of data by the end of 2015. A month later, Verizon Wireless offered an additional 1GB of data on its "More Everything" plans for two years, while T-Mobile announced unlimited data for one year to customers who switched over from a rival.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere talks up Wi-Fi calling at a press event on Wednesday. Josh Miller/CNET

The plans are part of an escalating price war in which the main weapon has been more data, rather than lower prices. The moves underscore the hyper-competitive environment in the wireless industry.

AT&T, however, believes it is better to be up front about the prices and plans.

"The prices you have are the ones you see," he said. Regarding the promotional plans from rivals, he said, "Those who buy them will have interesting times when they expire."

Verizon said that there are a lot of great options out there and that it feels it has a compelling offer. T-Mobile wasn't available for comment.

AT&T, which posted strong second-quarter results from a customer and turnover perspective, believes its third-quarter will be similarly positive. De la Vega said he expects the turnover rate for customers who pay their bills at the end of the month will remain below 1 percent, following up its record-low turnover rate in the second quarter.

De la Vega's boast comes after Legere announced on Wednesday that T-Mobile added a record gross 2.7 million customers in August -- its best month ever.

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