Whether it’s ready or not, Voice over LTE is here as a pair of carriers on different sides of the world unveiled commercial services using the standard.
Domestically, the offering was launched by MetroPCS, which said it is offering the service using the LG Connect smartphone and initially offered in select stores across its Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas market. The carrier noted that all calls placed to and from the handset will use the VoLTE service regardless of the handset or network on the other end.
Internationally, South Korea’s SK Telecom has also begun offering VoLTE services, dubbed HD Voice. (This HD Voice should not be confused with the HD voice service that has been rolling out across devices and carriers since mid-2009.) The service is initially being offered through the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, with devices sold beginning today embedded with support and those already sold upgradeable through a firmware upgrade.
SK Telecom said the offering will offer high-definition sound quality “by using high-quality audio codec capable of handling 2.2 times wider frequency bandwidth than that of 3G voice calls.” In addition, it claims call connection times is between twice and 20-times shorter than a call placed over its 3G network.
SK Telecom said it will not charge a premium for the VoLTE service even though it runs over its data network. MetroPCS did not mention any pricing differences for its offering.
Carriers have been somewhat cautious in moving to the VoLTE offering as some have noted their testing has shown the service is not yet comparable with traditional voice calls in quality. Verizon Wireless, which was one of the first carriers to jump on board in support of the VoLTE standard and completed its first test call in early 2011, has said it was still waiting for quality issues to be worked out before launching the service.
Sprint Nextel has begun offering the HTC Evo 4G LTE smartphone that is embedded with HD voice calling capabilities that are expected to be supported by the carrier’s Network Vision network enhancements. AT&T Mobility and Clearwire have both indicated they plan to offer VoLTE services across their respective LTE networks next year.
Analysts have also highlighted numerous technical challenges that will need to be overcome before the standard is ready for widespread deployment.
The move to VoLTE is seen as inevitable for all carriers operating LTE networks as it will allow them to eventually shutter their legacy 2G and 3G networks. This will then allow those operators to re-farm those 2G and 3G spectrum bands to further support LTE and eventually LTE-Advanced services.
According to the report’s lead analyst, Asad Khan, “Demand for VoLTE is being fuelled by carriers wanting to establish a native mobile VoIP solution, both for the long-term economic benefits and to defend against the threat posed by [over-the-top] VoIP providers such as Skype, FaceTime and Viber,” explained Asad Khan, analyst at Arc Chart.
Infonetics Research recently noted that by 2016 VoLTE will make up only about 14% of global mobile VoIP revenue.
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