Interoperability issues aside, OEMs should consider VoLTE as a tool for innovation

Sue Marek
It's no secret that CDMA operators MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) are pushing hard to move to voice over LTE (VoLTE). They need to make the transition from circuit-switched voice seamlessly and quickly so they can refarm their 3G spectrum to help accommodate the rising demand for mobile broadband services.

But in an industry where voice quality is critical to success, moving your subscribers to a new technology is worrisome, at best. The GSMA has been working on a VoLTE standard for the past couple of years and at the 2011 Mobile World Congress the group introduced a VoLTE profile that is based upon 3GPP standards. At the time, several operators (including Verizon Wireless) committed to moving forward using the GSMA guidelines.

Some believe that using the GSMA VoLTE profile alone will not prevent interoperability issues. I spoke with device testing firm Spirent Communications at Mobile World Congress, and Ross Cassan, director of marketing at the firm, warned that interoperability issues could occur if operators do not wait for the 3GPP standard. Cassan added that Spirent was currently testing a few VoLTE devices and he predicted that at least two devices will make their debut by year-end.   

However, Bill Stone, Verizon Wireless' executive director of network strategy, said interoperability will not be an issue for VoLTE as long as all the ecosystem players follow the VoLTE profile created by the GSMA. "Verizon Wireless is intent upon deploying VoLTE that is based upon industry standards," Stone said. "We are strong advocates for all the industry complying with or evolving to something that is fully compliant so we have full interoperability."

Stone added that Verizon is considering deploying VoLTE as both a client on the device and as an embedded solution. Having an embedded solution could provide some benefits, Stone said, such as optimizing battery life or leveraging other capabilities that might be native in the device. However, he also said that offering VoLTE as a downloadable client on a device will allow the company to get VoLTE-capable devices in the hands of more customers more quickly.

Aside from the debate over potential interoperability concerns, it appears that VoLTE could be a great opportunity for device makers to innovate. Stone said that he would like to see OEMs figure out a way to make it easier for consumers to use VoLTE by making the dialer more intuitive or linking the service to the consumers' contact list. 

VoLTE appears to offer device OEMs an opportunity to create a better experience for consumers--and that's an important factor in a time when it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate one smartphone from the other.

If we have learned anything from Apple's success with the iPhone, it's that creating an easy, intuitive experience for the consumer is critical to a devices' success. Perhaps VoLTE will offer a chance for some clever device OEM to gain ground with consumers that still want to use their smartphones for making phone calls. --Sue