June 3, 2014
Although Voice over LTE (VoLTE) technology has been on U.S. carriers’ radar for several years now, it has remained just out of reach.
Like Lucy infamously swiping the football from Charlie Brown, major carriers have baited consumers for years with unfulfilled promises of VoLTE, a 4G voice service that transforms calls into data to be carried over U.S. carriers’ growing LTE networks.
But two weeks ago, No. 4 U.S. carrier T-Mobile finally announced the rollout of its first VoLTE network in Seattle. The very next day, No. 1 AT&T launched its own, more expansive VoLTE network in areas of the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin).
Experts speculate that when T-Mobile acquired MetroPCS it gained an advantage, since MetroPCS had launched a VoLTE network as far back as 2012.
Currently, U.S. LTE networks and voice networks run on completely different frequencies, making simultaneous voice and data usage impossible. While LTE networks can easily transmit data, voice calls must use older 3G network technology – a problem for anyone trying to send and receive emails during a long call.
With voice and data traveling through the same network, VoLTE allows voice and data to flow smoothly together, allowing for a more streamlined user (and carrier) experience.
But most importantly, VoLTE means the overall enhanced quality of voice calls.
Thanks to an aspect of VoLTE called HD Voice, calls made via VoLTE network-enabled devices will feature clearer calls, with fewer drops and interruptions.
HD Voice makes VoLTE similar to Voice over IP (VoIP)* technology: With voice streaming over an IP connection, audio quality is much better than that of a regular voice call (though the quality of VoIP calls tends to decrease dramatically in low-connection areas, as many have experienced during Skype or FaceTime calls).
Luckily, VoLTE employs newer technology than VoIP* to provide the best voice service thus far.
Other benefits of this technology include promising possibilities (e.g. video calls, voicemails and language translation in real-time†) – once carriers get on the same page.
Though VoLTE is finally a reality in the U.S., it’s clear that the technology still has a long way to go – right now, the carriers are more focused on “playing catchup” than revolutionizing voice-data tech.*According to the carriers, T-Mobile’s VoLTE network (bolstered by T-Mobile’s plans to expand LTE) can only be accessed by users who own the LG G Flex, Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Light by downloading a software update.†
Likewise, the first device with access to AT&T’s VoLTE will be the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini† – but more devices are guaranteed to come as the smart device industry continues to grow, incorporating this new VoLTE compatibility.
The market still waits for No. 2 Verizon (which has confirmed intentions to launch its own VoLTE network within the year) and No. 3 Sprint, the only major carrier that has yet to make any VoLTE announcements (experts speculate that VoLTE could be on hold until Sprint expands its LTE network further).
* Peckham, Matt. Why Your Phone Is Suddenly Making Clearer Calls, Time. Time Inc.
† Rodriguez, Salvador. T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon rolling out VoLTE: What is it?, LA Times: Technology Now. Los Angeles Times.