Alcatel-Lucent: Carriers aligning on VoLTE, RCS

The network, handsets and business justification for voice over LTE and Rich Communication Suite services are quickly coming together, and the world's major mobile operators will be aligned on voice over LTE and Rich Communication Suite in just a couple of years, predicts an Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ: ALU) executive.

IP Multimedia Subsystem provides the foundation for both VoLTE and RCS, which were both created via GSM Association initiatives. Though the two can be deployed independently of one another, many vendors and operators see that VoLTE and RCS are a natural fit.

U.S. mobile operators such as Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) are expected to start with VoLTE and add RCS to enrich calls with features such as instant messaging, file sharing and video--though the latter is not technically a RCS service as it was specified via another GSM Association initiative--said Ed Elkin, marketing director for Alcatel-Lucent's advanced communication solutions.

"That's the North American model. They look at VoLTE coming with RCS Release 5 coming from the GSMA, enriched with video communications, too," Elkin told FierceBroadbandWireless. "Once you've got VoLTE, there's not that much more work to add to these other applications [such as] the client-side capability to do enriched calling."

"Over in Europe, the situation's different. There, it's currently considered incredibly important to have roaming," he said. Of course, few LTE networks are deployed in Europe, and Elkins predicts it will take another year or so for VoLTE roaming between operators to be enabled.

In the meantime, European operators are going ahead with a modified version of RCS, called RCS-e, which is the basis for the consumer branded-Joyn messaging and file-sharing service that operators hope will enable them to compete with over-the-top service providers.

"RCS-e gives operators a competitive service against the OTTs, and they can even also open up their networks with APIs and partner with OTTs. It also establishes IMS interoperability," said Elkin.

"So when they do come along and deploy VoLTE--which we forecast beginning in Europe at the end of 2013, hitting volume in 2014, about a year behind North America--they'll already have IMS interoperability and networks built and they can more easily deploy VoLTE at t that time," he said.

Then in 2014-2015, said Elkin, "you see the world's operators basically aligned on VoLTE, RCS Release 5 and video, and you have that rich set of services available."

LTE operators planning to offer VoLTE have the network capabilities in place for the service, said Elkin. And while it's true that handsets are, and will continue to be, a bottleneck that is subject to the upgrade cycle, Alcatel-Lucent is in testing with handset vendors who should enter the final testing phases late this year.

One of the most important ingredients in ensuring successful VoLTE and RCS deployments is the business justification. Operators think, "There's a very nice 2G/3G network. What's the case here for VoLTE?" said Elkin, noting carriers increasingly answering that the business case for VoLTE is derived from the need to keep up with what OTT providers are offering.

Further, though operators with broad LTE coverage may prefer to just add VoLTE across the board, islands of VoLTE coverage may be suitable for others, said Elkin. Many of today's thriving OTT services started out with islands of service, perhaps just working on PCs or a particular brand of handset, "but they've been incredibly successful," he said.

"People do create good services on islands. And by the way people do spend most of the time on the island," said Elkin.

Ultimately VoLTE is "a giant slingshot" for launching a variety of new projects, he said. "And as you move your communications platform to an IMS base, you can add more features and applications with VoLTE as your anchor service. And then you can sunset the PSTN."

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