Sprint partners with BroadSoft for VoLTE, but timeline is MIA

Sprint (NYSE:S) is working with network vendor BroadSoft to enable next-generation IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) technology as well as Voice over LTE. However, Sprint has not given a firm timeline for when it will launch VoLTE service.

According to a statement from BroadSoft, Sprint will use its BroadWorks platform, which is IR.92 and IR.94 compliant, and is architected to easily integrate with 2G, 3G, and LTE IMS-based networks. BroadSoft said its services allow carriers to transition Unified Communications systems from legacy networks as they migrate to VoLTE.

"We were seeking a single voice and video application server platform to support our IMS network transformation in order to provide the communication services both our consumer and enterprise customers are demanding today," Iyad Tarazi, vice president of network development at Sprint, said in a statement.

"BroadSoft's platform provides many capabilities for Sprint, including Voice over Wi-Fi, support for femto cells and future VoLTE," Sprint spokesman Kelly Schlageter told FierceWireless. "BroadSoft services have been in the Sprint network for a long time, and we are expanding the services they provide in preparation for future network requirements. Sprint is doing a lot of work in testing and development for VoLTE, but we have not provided an official launch date."

A main concern in launching VoLTE commercially is ensuring enough LTE coverage to support the service. Sprint aims to cover around 250 million POPs with its 1900 MHz LTE network by mid-year, and may roll out VoLTE after it covers its existing CDMA network with LTE.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) has said it expects to commercially launch VoLTE in the first half of 2014. Carriers are keen to move to VoLTE because it will eventually allow them to refarm legacy voice spectrum for data services.

In an interview with FierceWirelessTech at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month, Mark Collins, senior vice president of data and voice products at AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), said that by the second half of this year the majority of AT&T's devices will be VoLTE-ready. But he said it will be 2015 before there is mass-market VoLTE adoption.

In a separate interview, Kris Rinne, senior vice president of network technology at AT&T Labs, confirmed that the company is in its final stages of VoLTE testing but declined to say exactly when the carrier will launch the service. "The timeline will boil down to when we have it at the same quality as our circuit-switched," Rinne said.

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) has not said when it will launch VoLTE service.

As part of its Network Vision network modernization, Sprint (NYSE:S) has been rolling out HD Voice capabilities on its 800 MHz spectrum, and Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said last month that roughly 8 million out of Sprint's 30 million postpaid customers have HD Voice-capable handsets, since Sprint has been seeding the market with them. By mid-2014, Hesse said the vast majority of Sprint's network footprint will have HD Voice, and he expects roughly half of postpaid base will have HD Voice-capable phones.

HD Voice uses Adaptive Multi Rate Wideband (W-AMR) technology to improve call quality, but the voice codec must be supported in handset hardware along with two microphones and noise-canceling software. In order for HD Voice calls to go through, both the handsets making and receiving the call and the network infrastructure supporting that call must support HD Voice.

Even when carriers do commercially launch VoLTE, it's not clear what specific applications or use cases it will enable that subscribers cannot already get via over-the-top messaging and communications apps such as Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL)  FaceTime, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Hangouts, Google Voice or WhatsApp. The carriers' service will likely have guaranteed Quality of Service, but it's unclear if consumers will flock to VoLTE-based apps.

Research firm Analysys Mason said in December VoLTE is unlikely to make a significant impact in 2014 because few countries will have the breadth of network needed for useful service apart from Japan, South Korea and the United States.

For more:
- see this BroadSoft release

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U.S. operators plan to launch VoLTE soon, but benefits to users are unclear