Voice over LTE: Loud and Clear

More Hero VoLTE Devices Needed To Drive Revs

VoLTE_lWell, this is rich: operators around the globe are rolling out Voice over LTE (VoLTE). T-Mobile and AT&T already offer VoLTE in some locations, and there’s now confirmation that Verizon in the US will begin services later this year. Some operators, such as SK Telecom in Korea, are able to charge a premium for the service, advertising HD voice as a key benefit.

VoLTE uses a packet-switched architecture similar to VoIP services such as FaceTime, and this enables a quality boost — HD voice is a very clear selling point of VoLTE thanks to consumer understanding of the term. However, the main advantage of using a packet-switched connection for voice is the ability to run other services simultaneously. Such scenarios are already clear to mobile-savvy users who want to perform tasks like map reading, file sharing or messaging while talking on the phone.

This shift could help mobile operators to catch up to IP-based communications services from players such as Skype and Google. The ability to compete against over-the-top services has been a key intention in the development of technologies like VoLTE. Market valuations of companies including Facebook and Twitter demonstrate that making communications richer could benefit an operator’s shareholders as well as its users. The lag in rolling out standardised services has unfortunately prevented operators from realizing most of the benefits of social networking over the past 10 years, but there’s still room for new innovation.

The current lack of VoLTE-compatible smartphones will slow wider adoption, although a few popular devices including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 3 do support VoLTE. T-Mobile in the US says that it currently has almost 3 million VoLTE-compatible devices running on its network, amounting to about 5% of its subscribers. Handset and tablets makers should note the obvious upgrade cycle potential as users come to understand the advantages of VoLTE. Marketing is vital and will be strongly in the interest of hardware makers and operators.

Market leadership might come from Apple during the coming months. The iPhone 6 and updated iOS is expected to support VoLTE, so we could see a series of magical marketing moments from Apple that demonstrate new and exciting usage scenarios.

The ability to carry data and voice side by side, as equals, will allow operators to innovate and could result in some interesting new services. This has the potential to increase ARPU for enterprise users and consumers. Moves away from the long legacy of dedicated voice channels could result in something very rich for the market.