VoLTE: You Don’t Have to Shout

VoLTE: You Don’t Have to Shout Image Credit: Openet

Whether you’re a fan or not, Taylor Swift gets it.

Some things are more or less just accepted as normal. It makes life easier. The standard sized can of cola or wine bottle or QWERTY keyboard format have been around for so long that any other format might at best seem weird. Any changes would require massive marketing spend relative to the value available and possibly even have significant numbers of consumers longing for the past. Why fix it if it’s not particularly broken? Think of how vinyl records have even had a resurgence in recent years.

So despite the changes that the telecoms and IT industries embody, one aspect is little changed at the user-level: voice. The experiences of crackle, delay (latency), echo, poor coverage or dropped service have become so accepted that communicating by voice any other way seems somehow non-normal.

Worse still is the seemingly endless time on conference calls where all of these aspects of (poor) quality are amplified (pun intended).

Imagine a high definition (HD) Voice over LTE (VoLTE)-enabled voice service where connectivity is instant and prioritised. Where it’s as close to someone being in the same room as you can get from a device. If you’ve experienced this you’ll know it brings a subtlety to the conversation that is simply impossible to imagine for most mobile users. Add video on top if you want it. (Many video conference system providers have been surprised about how little either user wants to bother with video for day-to-day business use). Seamless file sharing might be more important for some, especially business users.

Quietly however the stars have been coming into alignment on VoLTE. At least 442 Operators have launched LTE networks in 147 countries (October 2015, Source: GSA). Supporting devices (including Sony Xperia Z5, Samsung Galaxy S5 and later Samsung devices) have the required standard. Network-level enablement and Quality of Service (QoS) controls combined with a critical mass of devices (not to mention promotion) are required.

Increasing numbers of Operators are testing it. QoS is especially relevant as voice competes for data with multiple applications on ever more powerful devices capable of parallel application handling. So far the results are encouraging. AT&T, SingTel and T-Mobile USA have launched. Korean Operators SK Telecom and LG U+ have had success with millions of active subscribers since 2012. Eyes (or ears) are on European Operators in 2016 with a number of Operators known to be trialling.

Tucked away in the standards-based functionality of VoLTE are other drivers:

Compatibility with Operator-grade rich communication suites. Available from the phone’s native dialler these can provide users with a more seamless experience than using separate apps for features like chat, presence (availability features), file sharing and video

Improvements in battery life due to greater efficiencies from voice over data and less continuous screen usage

Improved integration with voice over WiFi for seamless offload (say when you arrive home or go into the Underground or other areas of poorer mobile coverage). Operators are getting ever increasing traction and improved customer experiences, not to mention cost savings, by embracing seamless WiFi offload

Improved quality relative to 3rd party over-the-top (OTT) applications like Skype that will generally remain on a best-effort basis

In recent years it has been all about packaging voice to compete with new OTT applications: presence (active or inactive indications), location, conference, video and various combinations of these features in downloadable app form. Actual voice and voice quality were on the list of user-requirements somewhere, but they seemed increasingly buried or less exciting than other applications. Voice needed to be in real time so it seemed acceptable for quality to be poor. All the other non-voice stuff was designed to be possible despite poor quality voice or perhaps because of poor quality voice. It was also driven by fluctuating data access and consumers’ insatiable appetites for new toys and tools. Many of those tools are not especially time-dependent compared with voice and therefore have low demand on the network (e.g. Snapchat, Twitter or email).

Does my phone do voice too?

On the Operator side, voice became somewhat disregarded. While everyone seems to need it whether they actually use it much or admit to using it, voice has been like the noisy neighbour to the cool stuff next door. It has been bundled for “free” so much that users and even Operators have taken it for granted. Soon however voice might just be the coolest application around again. After all, it has always been there in some form. Unlike many other applications all users will instantly “get” VoLTE. Many Operators quietly admit that they aren’t sure which applications will be the next Facebook or Whatsapp. Penetration rates of 100% for applications that can be managed directly and drive revenue can only be dreamed about. Perhaps voice (VoLTE) is as far as they need to look. Questions might remain about the value (pricing) to end-users and it will surely vary from region to region but can easily be tested. Early signs are extremely promising.

5 years ago, few people would have thought Taylor Swift would be selling large volumes of vinyl in 2016.  In fact vinyl sales increased by 30% in the USA in 2015. Taylor Swift’s album was one of the biggest vinyl sellers. If Taylor Swift is to vinyl as VoLTE is to voice then VoLTE may well also surprise within a few short years. Whether it tops the (apps) charts remains to be seen. Taylor wouldn’t mind.

Originally published on Openet's Blog

Frank Healy is a product marketing manager at Openet, the leading independent supplier of real-time BSS (business support systems) to global communication service providers. Frank has held various business development, sales and marketing roles with service providers and vendors in the telecoms sector. Prior to joining Openet he was responsible for developing wholesale payments and messaging business at Ericsson and Gemalto.

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