It’s been a long time coming. Sprint has been preseeding the market with VoLTE-capable devices, and it expects to finally start commercially deploying VoLTE this fall.
“For more than a year we’ve been testing VoLTE and preseeding our customer base with VoLTE-capable devices in preparation for our commercial deployment starting this fall,” Sprint spokeswoman Adrienne Norton told FierceWirelessTech. “Our network today offers a great HD Voice experience on a very efficient 1x platform, and our goal with VoLTE is to match this same high-quality experience that our customers have today.”
The fall timeframe is the closest Sprint has given so far for a launch date after years of testing the technology. Back in 2014, network chief John Saw said the carrier was investing in VoLTE but it wasn’t in a big rush to roll it out. At the time, few carriers had actually deployed it at scale in such a way as to sustain a good voice service. Indeed, some other U.S. carriers ended up pushing back their deployment schedules and interoperability was an issue.
Former Sprint COO of technology Günther Ottendorfer explained in a 2016 Reddit AMA that VoLTE was on the roadmap but the company wanted to make sure customers had an even superior voice experience than what they get today. And HD voice took some pressure off the operator for launching VoLTE.
Fellow CDMA operator U.S. Cellular also took a more measured approach to VoLTE, citing greater challenges with it than its GSM-centric counterparts. U.S. Cellular CEO Kenneth Meyers back in 2016 described it as a “gap” that engineers were trying to overcome by moving gear to the top of towers, among other strategies.
Verizon, which also had a legacy CDMA network but was on a fast track to roll out LTE, has fully deployed VoLTE over its network, so 100% of its LTE sites have that capability, equating to its entire footprint.
AT&T touted a milestone in 2015 when its VoLTE reached more than 27 million subscribers; it took a market-by-market approach to rolling it out. In 2016, Verizon and AT&T started offering interoperable VoLTE to some customers, meaning customers on both networks could place VoLTE calls with each other.
T-Mobile says it was first in the U.S. to deploy VoLTE and it has VoLTE on 100% of its LTE network; currently, 80% of all voice at T-Mobile is carried over VoLTE. It's worth noting that T-Mobile has strived for many years to match the LTE coverage that Verizon has and as of a year ago, it still had 700,000 square miles to go. But T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray declared earlier this year that the coverage gap was “a thing of history.”
VoLTE offers as much as three times more voice and data capacity than 3G technologies, enabling higher-quality connections. According to the GSA, 217 operators are investing in VoLTE in 102 countries, including 134 operators with commercially launched VoLTE-HD voice service in 65 countries.