VoLTE Comes to Life

By: Tim Young

Back in 2009, prior to the first commercial deployment of LTE, discussions surrounding the future of an all-IP 4G wireless network were still sketchy. LTE hadn’t fully emerged as the 4G technology of choice, and talk of standards and best practices was still largely theoretical or academic. However, in November of that year a promise of emerging standards appeared to take shape. Industry leaders like AT&T, Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone, Verizon, TeliaSonera, Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung signed on to a joint technical profile for the development of LTE voice and SMS.  It was called the One Voice Initiative, and it was major step towards the future of all-IP wireless communication.

One Voice was built on IMS, and upon adoption by the GSMA in 2010 became known as Voice Over LTE (VoLTE). The interface between the customer and the network remained a primary focus of the standard, though the goals were expanded to include roaming and interconnect interfaces.

After years of lab tests and consensus building VoLTE became an actively deployed technology in early August. Three separate companies on two continents claim to have been the first to deploy the service; MetroPCS in the United States may have just barely edged out South Korean operators SK Telecom and LG U+, but the exact who-did-what-when is a secondary concern. What matters is that VoLTE is a deployed technology, a reality that increases the relevance of discussions about its benefits and viability of the technology. 

Analysts expect the total number of rollouts by the end of the year to be a relatively low in number (8-12 seems to be the consensus), and the total number of subscribers using VoLTE to barely break six digits (research from Signals and Systems Telecom estimates 100,000 subscribers by year’s end). Still, these early adopters represent only a small fraction of VoLTE’s potential; the technology promises to see a far more significant surge in 2013 and beyond.

But why? What are the benefits of VoLTE? 

Higher speeds, for one. SK Telecom promises increases in both the speed and quality of voice connections. The carrier suggested that call connection times with VoLTE could be as low as a quarter of a second, compared to an average of five seconds to connect a 3G call. 

In addition the new technology helps to facilitate higher levels of call clarity, provided user devices are equipped with hardware capable of handling higher-quality calls. A new audio codec that can handle double the bandwidth is responsible for the increase in call quality.


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