A bit of news was made on the Voice over LTE (VoLTE) front last week as Ericsson said that its platform will be used by SoftBank, a Japanese carrier.
Converge! Network Digest said that Ericsson will provide SoftBank with telecommunication-grade high-definition voice and video calling over LTE. Currently, the story says, Ericsson is upgrading the telco’s core with an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and a multimedia telephony application server.
At WirelessWeek, Broadcom Senior Director of 4G Product Marketing Lars Johansson provides an upbeat assessment of the future of VoLTE. That’s not surprising, considering that the company figures to sell a lot of its products in this sector.
The most valuable part of the piece is Johansson’s description of the benefits of the technology. He spends a paragraph each on VoLTE’s high spectral efficiency, the high quality of the calls, the reduction in power consumption, and the greater opportunity to provide subscribers with interactive services.
The idea behind VoLTE is to make networks more efficient. Currently, non-VoLTE LTE networks – just about all of them, in other words – are hybrids. The data services are 4G, while the voice traffic transitions back to earlier 2G or 3Gs. Running two networks is about as inefficient as it sounds.
The telephone industry anticipated this situation years ago and began developing the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). IMS is a great equalizer between wired and wireless networks and between applications. Services, including voice, are self-contained packages that are added via application servers. This new approach creates a landscape in which services can be added and dropped equally and efficiently across a telco’s wired and wireless networks.
South Korea is in the lead in VoLTE. The United States appears to be upping its game, however. FierceWireless reported last month that AT&T Mobility is expected to release a VoLTE phone this year and deploy the technology in 2014. The report was based on comments made by AT&T Labs president Krish Prabhu at the PCIA wireless infrastructure conference. It seems that subscribers will hear a lot about VoLTE in the months ahead:
He said AT&T is conducting network upgrade testing for VoLTE right now and that the technology will generally appear in the network next year. He said VoLTE will power an HD voice experience for customers who are using VoLTE handsets at both ends of calls.
The landscape will be frenetic. ABI Research paints a picture in which Over the Top (OTT) providers offer voice applications, such as Viber, and other services. Thus, the emergence of carrier-based VoLTE and real-time communications services (RCS) will be partly defensive and partly offensive. The analysts project that the two services “will help operators retain 65% of their former messaging market share.” The offensive element is that third-party developers working with carriers will try to make up that lost 35 percent – and more.
Clearly, VoLTE, by uniting the wired and wireless network, easing the adding and dropping of advanced applications and freeing up capacity by merging voice and data on 4G, is the next big thing. And it seems that it is a big thing that is right around the corner.