Challenges in VoLTE: Why Deployment Has Been Slower Than Expected
By Manoj Jain, Chief Operating Officer, Bankai Group
Technology throughout the telecom industry is continuously evolving to enable fast and efficient communication. Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) is a revolutionary service that is taking the industry by storm, replacing antiquated voice networks with faster and more reliable LTE networks. VoLTE is an entirely new way of transmitting voice, allowing wireless carriers to deliver voice services over existing data networks rather than traditional circuit-switched 2G or 3G networks. In this case, voice becomes just another packetized application on the user’s phone, resulting in a new standard for high-speed wireless communication that delivers a clear and reliable signal, while making more efficient use of existing network resources.
LTE networks are nothing new to the wireless industry. In fact, the Evolution to LTE Report from Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) reveals that as of April 2016, 494 LTE networks have been commercially deployed across 162 countries. In addition, according to the same report, wireless carriers around the world are quickly recognizing the potential for LTE to revolutionize voice transmission, as 126 operators across 60 countries have already invested in VoLTE deployments, studies or trials. What’s more, according to research firm, Ovum, the number of VoLTE connections is predicted to grow from a current 324 million to 3.3 billion by 2021, to reach 53 percent of total mobile subscriptions worldwide. If these predictions from leading industry analysts are any indication, we should expect to see a major paradigm shift in wireless voice transmission as companies continue to invest in VoLTE technology.
Because VoLTE converts voice into IP packets, there is a reduction in data loss, producing high definition voice transmission with quicker call connections and clearer voice quality, while simultaneously enabling operators to reduce network transmission costs. VoLTE technology enables twice as many calls as 3G networks and more than six times as many as GSM technology due to its superior spectral efficiency. VoLTE also provides carriers with an opportunity to offer new services launched directly from the phone’s native dialer, such as video chat and instant messaging, and reap the associated revenues.
So the question remains, with all these benefits for operators and customers, why are carriers not deploying VoLTE more aggressively? One challenge is the lack of smartphones that can be used on a VoLTE network. The LG G Flex, the Samsung Galaxy Light, the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Note 3 each have VoLTE radios, but most manufacturers have yet to adopt the technology. To reach the ubiquity predicted by Ovum, VoLTE capabilities must not only be built into products, but the devices and service plans necessary to support this technology must become widely affordable.
The necessity that both the caller and the call recipient be within LTE network coverage is also limiting VoLTE adoption. Calls cannot be placed between subscribers using VoLTE and the code-division multiple access (CDMA) protocol. In addition, if the caller roams off the LTE coverage area or the signal is too weak, the call will be dropped.
Another significant roadblock to the widespread deployment of VoLTE is lack of carrier interoperability, as this form of voice transmission currently only works within a single carrier’s network. Even if both the caller and the called party have a VoLTE-enabled device, without interoperability and roaming agreements, the call cannot be completed without hand-off to a 3G or GSM network. As carriers plan to phase out their 2G networks, VoLTE must match 2G and 3G networks in basic quality and coverage.
BridgeVoice, already a global leader in retail and wholesale VoIP termination services, is leading the development of interconnection systems that are crucial to the widespread adoption of VoLTE. Leveraging its flagship online platform for trading and settlement of interconnect voice and SMS services, it already serves the network providers and carriers that will provide the benefits of VoLTE, and win revenues from the exploding market.
While carriers across the U.S. and around the world such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are offering VoLTE over their 4G LTE networks, there are still issues to resolve. The benefits of deployment, including network efficiency and the opportunities for new service revenue with interconnection partners like BridgeVoice will, however, push carriers to adopt full IMS-based VoLTE.