Verizon pushes back VoLTE service until 2014

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Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) is on a long and winding road to provide Voice over LTE as its initial launch has now been pushed back to 2014, a delay of two years over initial plans.

Speaking at this week's CTIA MobileCon convention, Nicola Palmer, CTO for Verizon Wireless, said the operator is currently testing the technology. "I would expect that we would have something by the end of 2013," she said of VoLTE.

Palmer subsequently told CNET that consumer trials will begin in late 2013, with commercial service likely to follow in 2014. Palmer's comments provided a bit more clarity than Verizon executives have been offering of late regarding timing of the operator's VoLTE rollout.

Last month, Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said the company intended to launch VoLTE in 2013. In May 2012, Verizon Communications CTO Tony Melone said Verizon would add VoLTE capability to its mobile network later this year and could market VoLTE as its only voice offering in 2013 and into 2014, a statement that appears more bullish than Palmer's recent comments about commercial service only starting in 2014. It is doubtful the operator would market VoLTE as a sole voice offering until it has had ample time to gain real-world experience with the technology in the marketplace.

Catharine Trebnick, senior research analyst at Northland Capital Markets, told FierceBroadbandWireless that Verizon's VoLTE timeline likely slipped considerably after its LTE network suffered three outages in December 2011, prompting the operator to install more Diameter router signaling capability.

In response to questions about the changing VoLTE timeline, Verizon spokesman Tom Pica said via email that Verizon's VoLTE network "will be the largest scale mobile VoIP network out there." He indicated it is essential for the operator to first tackle latency and quality-of-service issues rather rush the service to market.

"We have ongoing VoLTE technical trials and are excited by the rich communications services that it will bring to consumers when it is ready to go to market," said Pica.

"Our 1X network is very efficient and provides excellent voice service to our customers today. We'll ease into VoLTE, first enabling VoLTE with a rich communication service in addition to standard CDMA voice and let customers get comfortable with it. After that, we'll be ready to offer the service to customers who choose it as the only voice solution on their device," he said.

Almost three years ago, Verizon was one of the more bullish operators when it came to VoLTE. At the Mobile World Congress in February 2010, Verizon Wireless Executive Vice President of Network Planning Bill Stone said the carrier had installed IP Multimedia Subsystem technology and was testing it on its 3G network. He also said Verizon "will deploy IMS VoIP as soon as we can after the introduction of LTE smartphones," though he declined to provide a timeframe.

Also in 2010, Melone said Verizon would launch VoLTE by late 2012 or early 2013, when the carrier's LTE footprint would be large enough to support a ubiquitous offering. Verizon launched LTE services in December 2010 across 39 markets covering around 110 million POPs. This week it announced that its 400th LTE market is close to launching, two months ahead of schedule. Given the fact that Verizon now has extensive LTE coverage, it is clear other issues are holding back the operator's VoLTE launch.

Verizon subsequently reiterated plans to launch VoLTE in 2012 when it announced in February 2011 that it had completed the world's first successful VoLTE call on a commercial LTE network. The operator said at the time that it would "enhance VoLTE with rich communications services and optimize performance on its commercial 4G LTE network during 2011," and added that commercial VoLTE services were slated for availability in 2012.

In January 2012, however, Trebnick was quoted as saying her sources at Verizon indicated the operator would not roll out VoLTE nationwide until early 2013. Based on Palmer's recent comments, however, that timeline has slipped even further, with trials beginning in late 2013 and service introductions expected sometime in 2014.

AT&T (NYSE:T) has said its VoLTE plans will be firmly in place for deployment in 2013, and Sprint Nextel is also said to be targeting next year to launch VoLTE. T-Mobile USA has said it will support the VoLTE service launched by MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) once their merger is complete but has no plans to expand it anytime soon.

For more:
- see this CNET article
- see this Electronista article
- see this HDVoice article
- see this LightReading article

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Verizon's Melone: There is no rush for VoLTE
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