Verizon's third-party testing lab gearing up for VoLTE/IMS devices

How close is Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) to offering voice over LTE? Pretty darn close, based on the fact that Spirent Communications announced its 8100 mobile device test system has been selected to ensure that VoLTE/IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) devices destined for Verizon's network will comply with industry standards and the operator's certification requirements.

Wireless device testing company Intertek will actually be the one using the Spirent equipment on behalf of Verizon. Intertek became Verizon's first approved independent, third-party device testing lab back in October 2008.

"We are responding to the time-sensitive needs of Verizon Wireless by choosing Spirent's 8100 solution and being one of the first commercial labs ready to test VoLTE/IMS," said Ron Bernot, wireless engineering manager at Intertek.

Spirent noted it currently offers comprehensive coverage of Verizon Wireless' VoLTE/IMS test requirements, including some areas of exclusive coverage. "The VoLTE/IMS service related tests are a critical test area for Verizon Wireless as it prepares to launch commercial service of these value-added services over LTE," Spirent said.

During Verizon's third-quarter 2013 earnings call last month, Verizon Communications CFO Fran Shammo said Verizon will "probably" introduce its first VoLTE smartphone by year-end and will light up the VoLTE rollout starting in the first half of 2014. He reiterated that Verizon will not rush the VoLTE launch because the carrier wants to ensure that VoLTE calls have the same quality as 3G CDMA voice calls.

"We have to make sure that our VoLTE experience is the same [as the CDMA calling experience], and that's why we have taken such a long time and we believe that when we get to the first half of next year, the network will be ready, the experience will be very, very similar and that we will be ready to roll this out," Shammo said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the call.

He also emphasized that the eventual VoLTE service footprint must be similar to Verizon's existing CDMA geographic coverage for it to be accepted in the marketplace. Similarly, Ulf Ewaldsson, senior vice president and CTO at Ericsson recently told FierceWirelessTech that one of the main hurdles restricting VoLTE rollouts is the fact that extensive LTE coverage is needed. He said VoLTE announcements in key markets will arrive "very, very soon."

Deployment of VoLTE will be a crucial step in Verizon's long-term game plan of shuttering its 3G CDMA network. Not only could that reduce network opex, but deleting CDMA support from customer devices could also lower pricing for them in addition to reducing some of their complexity. However, Shammo has cautioned that other functionality, such as multicast, will be added to Verizon's devices over time, and that will keep device pricing from plummeting.

Verizon's 2014 target for launching VoLTE represents a delay of two years over initial plans. The operator said back in February 2010 that it had installed IMS technology and would use that as a basis for a planned VoLTE service.

 For more:
- see this Spirent release

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