Loud and clear: operators moving the future of voice on

It won’t have escaped your attention that over the past few weeks a number of global operators have made significant announcements regarding Voice over LTE (VoLTE) deployments, particularly in Asia and North America. Operators including AT&T, NTT DOCOMO, PCCW-HKT, SingTel and     T-Mobile USA have all outlined plans to offer customers rich voice calling services over their LTE networks, with others primed to follow suit in the near future. Korean players KT, LG U+ and SK Telecom, as well as T-Mobile (via MetroPCS) in the United States, have all already deployed VoLTE offerings within their region. These announcements were warmly welcomed by the GSMA, particularly since we work closely with operators in our Network 2020 programme to help them make the transition to all-IP networks, where they – and their customers – will benefit from VoLTE and other services.

It is interesting to note why LTE is becoming one of the most quickly deployed cellular network technologies by mobile operators worldwide – according to GSMA Intelligence, by 2013 there were already 200 million LTE connections globally with a predicted 2.6 billion connections by 2020. As of 2013, the US, Japan and Korea accounted for 77% of all global LTE connections with Asia predicted to account for nearly 50% by 2017.

The mobile industry has moved through a number of different technologies from 2G (GSM) networks largely focused on voice to 3G, where data has played a more significant role. Mobile Internet access is now the primary application for many customers on HSPA, HSPA+ and LTE networks and this is set to continue – Cisco estimates that overall mobile data traffic is expected to grow to 15.9 exabytes per month by 2018, nearly an 11-fold increase over 2013 and at a CAGR of 61 percent from 2013 to 2018. For operators, the natural next step is to consolidate their networks as they move from separate ‘circuit-switched’ and ‘packet-switched’ networks to a single, future-proofed ‘all-IP’ network that will support all the services operators offer. LTE is the industry agreed all-IP mobile network technology and an important asset to operators in not only addressing the ever-growing customer demand for high-speed data services, but the delivery of a range of additional rich communications services such as VoLTE.

Based on the LTE and IMS specifications developed by 3GPP, the GSMA VoLTE initiative is designed to address the entire end-to-end voice and SMS ecosystem, including roaming and interconnect interfaces. The goal is to achieve a consistent industry-wide approach to delivering these services for LTE, so that they may be delivered seamlessly around the world, offering customers the best quality of experience, regardless of network they may be on. Further, a single, standardised approach reduces market fragmentation and promotes economies of scale, both of which will help to accelerate the market.

From a customer perspective, VoLTE is a win-win proposition, offering rich, reliable and crystal clear calling. Voice calls are enhanced and improved due to the inclusion of HD Voice codecs, lower latency improves voice quality and delivers faster call set up times, and there is also the added bonus of enriched calling by integrating RCS multimedia services such as IM, Presence, Video Calling and File Share.

VoLTE also scores highly in independent testing. A system for measuring perceived call quality called the Mean Opinion Score or ‘MOS’, which runs on a scale from 1 (nearly impossible to hear anything) to 5 (almost like a face-to-face conversation), consistently rates VoLTE higher than 2G/3G circuit-switched voice calls. Recent research by Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN) also highlighted that VoLTE came out on top when compared to OTT VoIP, providing a superior customer experience in terms of quality of service as well as smartphone battery consumption.

The growth of online service providers has influenced operator strategy and offerings, of course, but VoLTE allows operators to counter with simple out-of-the-box enriched calling services. There are many operators who are committed to VoLTE and are actively preparing to launch – the real time status can be seen on the VoLTE map here. We look forward to seeing many more operator VoLTE announcements in the near future so even more customers can enjoy crystal clear calling.