Rural markets may help drive voice over LTE

Not that long ago I was under the impression that voice over LTE via IMS was a long way off as the world's major operators seemed intent on leaving voice traffic on their 2G and 3G networks given the fact that voice services are so optimized on these legacy networks.

But in recent weeks, operators have no longer been silent on the issue. AT&T (NYSE:T) kicked off the news in October by announcing plans to support VoLTE in 2013, followed by MetroPCS saying it would trial the technology next year. This week rural operator Cellular South, in announcing its plans to move to LTE by the fourth quarter of 2011, said it would offer VoLTE at launch. ­ZTE said it has demonstrated a successful IMS-based based VoLTE call with Hong Kong-based mobile network, CSL.

Infonetics Research recently released a survey that indicated 94 percent of operators would deploy IMS and 39 percent expect to launch a voice service over LTE one year from the network launch. Still, support for voice on LTE networks is fraught with challenges. A common approach is still lacking, and vendors still have to determine how to support services such as TDM and signaling.

Interestingly, as the rural market heats up with LTE deployments, we could very well see this market driving the VoLTE market as companies use LTE as a fixed play to offer voice and data services. Cellular South has the most aggressive plans I've seen. Agri-Valley Communications, a small company in Michigan, is rolling out LTE as a nomadic offering and is considering a voice play. Eastern European operators are launching LTE as a primary communications offering.

While rural markets might not have the scale of larger networks, the world is moving to voice over LTE anyway, giving vendors the opportunity to test out the technology.--Lynnette