Three UK vaults over rivals with '4G Super Voice' VoLTE service

Three UK has become the first mobile operator in the UK to launch voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) services, beating rivals Vodafone UK and EE to the punch.

The Hutchison-owned operator said the service, which is free of charge and called 4G Super Voice, is based on 800 MHz spectrum that allows a mobile signal to travel much further into buildings and extends the company's reach to more rural areas, removing many of the current coverage 'black spots' across the country. Three UK already uses 1800 MHz spectrum for its 4G network.

Three UK said 4G Super-Voice now covers 50 per cent of the UK population for indoor coverage and more than three quarters of London, Edinburgh, Exeter and Birmingham. Coverage is expected to reach 65 per cent of the population by the end of the year, and 5.5 million Three UK customers could have access to 4G Super Voice by 2017, subject to device compatibility and take up.

Device compatibility is the devil in the detail here: the new technology will only be available on the Samsung Galaxy S5 at launch. New devices will be added over time, including recent iPhone models later this year.

Vodafone UK and EE have both said they intend to offer VoLTE services from this summer, but have not provided any further updates on the timing of the respective launches. EE has already launched Wi-Fi calling services, and Vodafone UK recently said it would deploy a nationwide Wi-Fi calling service in the UK in the coming weeks.

Three UK has also launched a Wi-Fi calling application called Three InTouch, although unlike rival offerings this is not integrated with the phone dialler.

According to a report from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) in July, 103 operators are investing in VoLTE deployments, trials or studies in 49 countries, from which 25 operators in 16 countries have commercially launched VoLTE-based HD voice service, compared to just three launched in March 2014.

In August, Swisscom also said it is the first operator in Europe to combine VoLTE with Wi-Fi calling to overcome weak mobile signals in heavily insulated buildings.

In its recent Mobile Consumer report for the UK, Deloitte said it expects to see a growing proportion of calls carried over voice over Wi-Fi (Vo-WiFi) and VoLTE, as well as existing VoIP apps.

"OTT VoIP may impact operators' bottom line in the long term. However, VoLTE could offset a potential decline in revenue, even if consumers do not end up paying more for VoLTE services," the research company said.

At the same time, Deloitte warned operators not to rush into VoLTE. If an operator were to launch too early in any regard, for example with too little of the market covered by 4G, users may quickly give up trying to use the new functionality.

For more:
- see this Three UK release

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