AT&T sets VoLTE date; Will others follow?

Lynnette LunaI was surprised to hear AT&T Wireless' Kris Rinne announce at the 4G World show this week that the operator is looking to deploy voice over LTE in the 2013 time frame.

From talking to analysts and vendors in recent months about when VoLTE may make its appearance, I got the impression that operators are in no hurry to get there. Phil Marshall, head of Tolaga Research, recently told me he expects that operators will continue to run voice on 3G networks for a very long time.

"It is the most efficient approach to delivering voice services and there is nothing on the horizon that offers meaningful performance improvements," he said. "LTE is better suited to broadband data services and therefore there is limited upside in migrating voice to LTE."

Verizon Wireless, which is launching 38 LTE markets later this year, is expected to rely on its circuit-switched network for at least a decade before offering VoIP over LTE. And my discussions with vendors indicate that Europe's operators are content with using LTE for broadband data capacity.

Peter Jarich, analyst with Current Analysis, recently said that one reason commercial operators are content with leaving voice traffic on their circuit-switched networks is because of the advances in codecs, which have made voice traffic extremely efficient.

"You have technologies like CDMA 1xRTT Advanced that support the increase of voice capacity, and you've got various voice enhancements coming out of standards bodies," he said. "Basically, having all sorts of voice improvements on existing networks makes it more tempting to keep the traffic on there."

Marshall said the only reason he can think of for upgrading to voice over LTE is to harvest spectrum, which may very well be what AT&T wants to do. I wonder if AT&T's move will now get the ball rolling on VoLTE?--Lynnette