Ericsson exec: VoLTE deployment delays not surprising due to network complications

Several U.S. wireless carriers have either pushed back their commercial launches of Voice over LTE or said they are not rushing to deploy VoLTE. According to a senior Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) executive, that's not exactly a surprise.

Johan Wibergh

"It's often underestimated what it takes to go from traditional circuit-switch voice to VoLTE," Johan Wibergh, Ericsson's executive vice president and head of its networks business unit, told FierceWirelessTech.

Wibergh noted that carriers and the wider wireless industry have spent 20 years perfecting their radio access networks and core networks for traditional voice communications. However, VoLTE requires new applications on devices, new ways for devices to interact with RAN gear and new functionality in the core network. "You don't just change that overnight," he said, adding, "When you do that, you want to make sure it's really ready."

AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) had planned to launch VoLTE by the end of last year, but earlier this year the carrier acknowledged it had missed that deadline and has not set a new timeframe for a VoLTE launch. Similarly, Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) in 2010 said the carrier would launch VoLTE by late 2012 or early 2013, but now the carrier expects to launch VoLTE sometime this year.  

Sprint (NYSE:S) will rely on its CDMA network and HD Voice technology for voice calling services for the foreseeable future, said Sprint Chief Network Officer John Saw recently. He added that while Sprint is investing in VoLTE it doesn't have a timeline for deploying the service. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) and U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) also have not committed to when they will launch VoLTE.

Wibergh said Ericsson is heavily involved in VoLTE deployments and testing worldwide, both on the RAN and core network sides. However, he said he would need to defer to operator partners regarding when they will deploy VoLTE.  

Turning to two other hot-button network topics, Wibergh said software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are two critical developments in the evolution of networks but noted it will take time for each to be deployed commercially. "We (in the industry) have a little bit of a tendency to overestimate how quickly things will happen in the short term and underestimate the big impact it will have long term," he said.

Both SDN and NFV are designed to bring massive efficiencies into networks by decoupling networks from underlying hardware and shifting network intelligence to software-based controllers. SDN does this by addressing gateways that route data over networks, and NFV is more focused on getting customized network software off of proprietary hardware and onto generic hardware.

In the U.S., AT&T has taken a  lead on building a virtualized network via its Domain 2.0 supplier program but has not yet announced when it will begin widespread commercial deployments of the new kinds of architectures. Infonetics Research recently predicted that  SDN and NFV won't be commercially deployed until 2015.

Ericsson's Wibergh said he thinks the change that is coming from both SDN and NFV will be enormous but "it will  not happen tomorrow." He said the vendor was doing trials with SDN controllers last year and is continuing that this year, as well as engaging in NFV proof of concepts.  

"We are completely convinced that this is where the industry  will go," Wibergh said, but added that it "will take some time before you see it happening on a large scale."

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