Voice-over-LTE could cause industry fragmentation, claims study

While the role of LTE in providing super-fast mobile data services has received widespread operator commitment, disagreements over how voice services will be carried over LTE infrastructure are in danger of causing the kind of technology fragmentation that occurred in 3G networks.

This issue, claims John Blau, research analyst with Unstrung Insider and author of the study, has been caused by the lack of progress in developing voice-over-LTE applications within IMS. "Over the coming months, operators, vendors and the 3GPP standards body will face some tough decisions. For those operators that believe voice is absolutely essential to have in their LTE service portfolio from the start, interim solutions will be necessary to fill the gap created by the slow progress of IMS. These interim solutions could trigger the technology disruption we saw in 3G networks."

According to Blau's study, the key findings are:

  • The VoLGA Forum, which proposes an interim packetised approach to carrying voice traffic over LTE, has completed the third and final phase of its specification process and will pursue standardisation during 2010.
  • One major OEM in the VoLGA Forum has no plans to develop, manufacture and market the interim voice-over-LTE solution.
  • Most equipment vendors shy away from providing exact information about their planned LTE voice products and their availability.
  • Over-the-top VoIP players may pose a greater threat to network-based mobile service players than many of them are willing to believe.
  • The IMS platform has been slow in coming to the mobile world, and many now fear it has become too complex. 

"Nearly everyone in the mobile phone industry agrees that LTE is the way forward for data, but that consensus does not extend to voice over LTE as yet," states Blau. "Some mobile operators view LTE initially as a data-only play and do not see a powerful case for rushing into voice, while other operators are worried that LTE without voice could be off to a difficult start."

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