I've long been a fan of the the FREE offering in France from Illiad, the disruptive telco. They were one of the first to offer blazing fast speeds, unlimited calling and all the TV channels you can watch with the deployment of the Freebox which is connected to DSL or Fiber networks across France.
Recently they began to be the fourth mobile operator, but to carry calls and data, much of the traffic was roaming on the Orange network. Well not anymore, as Free is now using WiFi offload to connect their smartphone toating customers over to any Freebox in France automatically, something pointed out by GigaOm's Kevin Fitchard today.
Now before you get all excited that this could happen here in the USA, don't. For starters the French regulations on tv channels made it possible for Illiad to offer all the same content that was previously either VHF or satellite that hits French soil. The laws also enable fiber and DSL operators to connect to the nationally owned Internet backbone that is strung by Orange's parent, France Telecom, which is why SFR's Wanadoo is the number two player behind Orange for in home broadband. So by taking advantage of the public's assets, Illiad has been able to then apply better technology and pricing to make this all happen.
The WiFi is using technology most likely from FON, as the founders of both companies are friends. FON pioneered the idea of a community network where members can use other member's WiFi as they roam around the world. Along the way FON's idea caught on with other operators allowing customers to log on at other users houses and many public hotspots. But the two big French mobile operators, SFR and Orange, never took the step that Illiad's Free is taking.
Once again, the upstart moves faster and smarter. Sadly the ability to do this kind of calling has been around for years. Client CounterPath has the BridgetPort Networks patents that enables Virtual Call Continuity, VCC, but the schism in the USA where the cable operators and the mobile operators have, and the internal battles at AT&T over wireless vs. wireline, plus the truely divided Verizon vs. Verizon Wireless have made things like this rather difficult here at home, even though Wi-Fi offloading of calls and data traffic makes total sense.