Voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology has the potential to dramatically change the smartphone market and will surely be in the news the rest of the year and beyond.
To date, 4G LTE networks only traffic data, with voice calls falling back to 3G networks. Finishing the job–combining voice and data on the same network–makes things far more efficient. It also opens up spectrum, since 3G networks can slowly be retired or used for other revenue-generated tasks, such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. Finally, the way in which VoLTE is being implemented is the first use of the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), an approach that adds services and applications in a smooth and modular fashion. Many see IMS as the future of telecommunications.
All in all, VoLTE is a big deal, and it is happening now. In June, South Korean carrier SK Telecom said that as of the end of May it served 4.5 million VoLTE subscribers. The service launched last August. According to the story in Telecoms, SK Telecom CTO J.W. Byun said that the average revenue per subscriber was up across the country. Another South Korean carrier, LG U+, also introduced VoLTE at about the same time as SK Telecom.
The fast uptake may have something to do with VoLTE quality:
Byun reiterated his claim that VoLTE dramatically improves audio quality, relying on high quality audio codecs that are able to handle 2.2 times wider frequency bandwidth as 3G voice. He also made much of improved call setup time which ranges from 0.25 to 2.5 seconds on LTE, compared with a five second setup time on 3G.
Last week, Infonetics Research released research on the current state of over-the-top (OTT) mobile VoIP and VoLTE. The press release on the report said that the firm expects VoLTE subscriber ranks to grow at a 145 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from last year through 2017. Combined, OTT VoIP and VoLTE will be a $16 billion business as of 2017.
Rethink Wireless suggests that VoLTE will get a boost sooner rather than later:
Despite plenty of hype, the progress towards commercial VoLTE services has been hesitant, as carriers wait for the level of LTE and IMS deployment to make sense of the investment. However, the technology is set for sharp uptick in 2014, often as part of a broader rich communications services (RCS) strategy, and as always, support from China Mobile affects the entire space.
Progress is slower in the U.S., but it indeed is being made. CNET reported that Verizon Wireless will offer a 4G-only phone by end of next year. The efficiency advantage of VoLTE is summarized nicely in the piece. Such a device, the story says, “could potentially be cheaper and sleeker because it doesn’t need multiple cellular radios that current smartphones require.”
VoLTE makes too much sense to not happen. And, when it does break out, the progress will be swift.