VoLTE Has Come a Long Way in a Short Time

Carl Weinschenk
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Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is making significant progress, and it is making it quickly.

LTE was designed as a data-only service. Voice calls fall back onto the existing 3G network. That approach is clearly inefficient, and led to a concerted effort to upgrade LTE to enable it to support both voice and data.

The transition to that approach, VoLTE, is well under way. For instance, FierceWirelessTech said earlier this month that about one-third of T-Mobile’s voice calls now use VoLTE. That milestone comes only about 18 months after the carrier launched VoLTE services.

Several subtle signs of progress on the VoLTE front are showing up. One is that its increased utilization is leading to infrastructure change. RCR Wireless this week reported that AT&T is looking to small cell technology to meet demand established by the new approach to voice services:

Gordon Mansfield, who headed up AT&T’s small cell solutions business until late last year, said at Small Cells Americas that the carrier uses small cells to help with the uplink for VoLTE. He noted that unlike 3G, LTE was designed for data, so the downlink is stronger than the uplink. But VoLTE puts the same requirements on both the uplink and the downlink, so boosting the uplink with small cells makes sense.

Another way in which the category is growing in size and importance to operators is in its sophistication. The integration of voice and data that is at the heart of VoLTE creates an extendable platform that has the capability of offering services far beyond simple voice calls. These advanced platforms can support video calls and unified communications-style services. Voice, though the catalyst, at the end of the day becomes just another modular choice in the overall infrastructure.

AT&T this week launched this type of service. Its advanced messaging service and video calling is part of its LTE Rich Communications Services (RCS) rollout. It is a phased rollout that to this point is offered, according to Twice, only on “a very small selection of phones,” with video calling available in only 20 states. The point is, however, that carriers see VoLTE as an enabler of these value-added services. They will go after them aggressively.

The final sign that VoLTE is arriving, and quickly, is that the support infrastructure is working to catch up with the core technology. Rethink Wireless this week pointed out how difficult deployments are and described what is being done to ensure that they are consistent and stable. The story focuses customer experience management (CEM) platforms, pointing out that despite the fact that voice represents a shrinking piece of mobile operators’ revenue pie, it remains vital because it is the yardstick by which most subscribers measure their carrier.

In the big picture, however, the article assumes that VoLTE is an accepted platform. Indeed, Voice over LTE has come a long way in a couple of years. It now is at the center of operators’ infrastructure – and their plans.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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