VoLTE and RCS interoperability tests on tap

Though operators are anxious to use their new LTE networks to meld together Voice over LTE and Rich Communication Suite services as they strive to compete against over-the-top (OTT) providers or even collaborate with them, initial vendor interoperability tests for a combination of the platforms are still months away.

It is envisioned that combining the voice-over-IP capabilities of VoLTE with RCS will enable operators to offer innovative multime­dia services with strong security and quality of service that OTT players cannot provide without deeper integration into the network.

Examples of possible RCS services include shared pictures and video, presence, intelligent address books, social networks interweaving and more. At least that is the promise, as RCS has been vastly underutilized despite heading into its fifth release but is now being characterized as a viable way for operators to tackle third-party OTT messaging and other services from the likes of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Skype and others.

"The point of putting VoLTE and RCS together is that you get a coherent set of services because somebody's taken the trouble to design the services and make sure they work well together rather than having a series of ad-hoc services that are independent and may or may not work well together," said Wayne Cutler, CTO of the MultiService Forum (MSF).

The application servers for VoLTE and RCS use the existing service architecture provided by IMS. "They're designed to work together. They use a common service infrastructure and a common underlying bearer layer," Cutler said.

By exploiting these commonalities, wireless operators should be able to offer innovative services with higher security and QoS than OTT providers, which are reliant upon the whims of the IP delivery network because their services are merely riding atop the network rather than being ingrained into it.

Vendors across the industry have been working for years on VoLTE and RCS platforms, and interoperability testing for both will finally begin later this year when the MSF joins with the GSM Association and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute on the first-ever RCS and VoLTE interoperability event, which will take place Oct. 1-12 in two labs. One testing site will be hosted by Telecom Slovenia Group and Sintesio, in Kranj, Slovenia, while China Mobile will host another at the China Mobile Research Institute Laboratory in Beijing. The dual-location event is being sponsored by Verizon (NYSE:VZ).

"The GSMA is pleased to work with the MSF and ETSI on interoperability of RCS and VoLTE technologies as it demonstrates further momentum for implementing a single, industry-wide solution for advanced communication services via IP," said David Hutton, GSMA director of technology.

The MSF says the October interoperability event will target core network interfaces needed to ensure multi-vendor deployment strategies for RCS and VoLTE technology. It will validate interoperability of RCS services with and without VoLTE and also validate interoperability of VoLTE services.

A previous MSF event held during September 2011, and also backed by the GSMA, took place at labs in Dusseldorf, Germany and Beijing and looked solely at VoLTE interoperability. Nineteen vendor companies, including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU), Cisco, Huawei, Samsung and ZTE, participated in the testing. Mixing and matching different vendors' equipment revealed some specific interoperability issues. For example, backwards incompatibility was observed between implementations of different versions of 3GPP specifications, and implementations that were not fully compliant with the 3GPP specifications were discovered.

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