Back when the great mobile technology debates in the late 1990s centered on W-CDMA vs. CDMA 1X EV-DO, the ability to conduct simultaneous voice and data sessions was an argument brought up many times by AT&T (NYSE:T) as it chose to deploy W-CDMA technology. Of course, back then, that capability was considered minor given the fact that mobile broadband was still in its infancy.
Fast forward almost 15 years and the technical capability is very much becoming a differentiating factor--or at least AT&T is good at making it one. Now that Verizon Wireless has the iPhone, AT&T is heavily attacking the operator's inability to offer simultaneous voice and data on its EV-DO network. As it turns out, that capability is a big deal to smartphone users.
And it seems that Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) understands this as it talks up voice over LTE (VoLTE), a capability the operator only several months ago touted as something coming far down the line as it was going to rely on the extensive voice coverage of its CDMA network. VoLTE is an IMS-based take on delivering IP voice via LTE.
The latest timeline for Verizon's VoLTE deployment now appears to be as soon as possible. Brian Higgins, Verizon's executive director for ecosystem development, told CNN that next week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Verizon plans on demonstrating a smartphone, the LG Revolution, that takes advantage of the technology. However, the LG Revolution won't come to market with that capability.
Last year, Verizon Communications CTO Tony Melone said that Verizon would add VoLTE by late 2012 or early 2013, when the carrier's LTE footprint will be larger. Now the carrier is heavily touting the advantages of VoLTE, including enhanced call clarity and the ability to conduct a voice session and surf the Web at the same time.
Still, the most efficient approach to delivering voice services is on 3G networks, which have undergone years of optimization to make voice delivery cheap. I suspect Verizon Wireless may have to selectively roll out VoLTE on certain devices and market it to those power users who desire simultaneous voice and data services as carrying voice traffic on LTE is expected to remain significantly more expensive than running voice on the operator's CDMA network. VoLTE will be a balance of cost and competitive needs for Verizon likely for several years. Meanwhile, AT&T will keep a competitive edge in that area on its HSPA network, but it will face the same challenge when it deploys LTE. In some ways, its HSPA network will be more advanced than LTE.--Lynnette