Tacqua, a vendor long associated with the cellular telephony market, is shopping a way for cable operators to get into the mobile phone business far cheaper, quicker, and easier than any scheme that MSOs have come up with to date. The basic idea is to flip the dual-mode phone model on its head.

Wireless carriers have standardized on phones that default to using licensed cellular spectrum for most calls, but then can be switched to Wi-Fi when Wi-Fi connectivity is available.

Taqua has developed an approach it is calling voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) that would enable MSOs to use those exact same dual mode phones, but set them so that their default is to use Wi-Fi connectivity, and then automatically switch to cellular when out of range of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

The proposal differs from over-the-top phone apps such as Skype in several critical ways. First, the MSO owns, operates, and manages the service.

Secondly, the phone behaves no differently, and is used no differently. There is no separate app to open or use; the approach relies on client software that makes use of the phone’s existing functions including the phone’s own dialer. On the device side, the approach is currently restricted to Android phones.

In addition to the client for the handsets, Taqua provides a software suite that runs on off-the-shelf servers. The network server looks like a router to the network and like a cellular switch to phones.

Taqua’s proposal initially seems appropriate mostly – perhaps only – for those few large MSOs with extensive public Wi-Fi networks, but given usage patterns, Taqua thinks that might not be so.

The vast majority of cellular traffic is indoors, much of it at home or at work, locations where Wi-Fi already tends to be prevalent. The vast majority of data usage on smartphones is likewise consumed indoors, via Wi-Fi, rather than on the cellular network.

Given that, there’s a good argument that having an extensive public Wi-Fi network is icing. VoWiFi could be as useful for Tier 2 and Tier 3 operators as it could be for the largest MSOs. The company said it has already pitched the idea to several MSOs (of course unidentified), and that the response has been positive.

For full geographic coverage, MSOs would set up roaming agreements with wireless operators. There are third party companies that act as roaming clearinghouses, so that should be a minor issue, said John Hoadley, Taqua’s Wireless CTO.

The system, including both the network software and the Android client, is already in use by a major wireless carrier, Taqua said. The carrier is using the system to offload traffic onto Wi-Fi, but the company insists it is a simple matter to flip the system for use by cable companies.