Verizon plans nationwide VoLTE launch this year with 'robust' smartphone lineup, video calling

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) reiterated its plans to launch VoLTE sometime this year, and said that when it launches the service the carrier will offer a "robust line" of VoLTE-capable smartphones and video calling services. Verizon's announcement likely is an effort to counter rival AT&T Mobility's (NYSE: T) own VoLTE launch, scheduled for Friday in a handful of markets on one phone.

"We believe the combination of this robust network along with the new features is going to create a new, meaningful experience for our customers for their calling needs," said Brian Higgins, VP of mobile and Internet services for Verizon's product group, in a conference call with reporters. Higgins added that Verizon will release additional details on its VoLTE service throughout this year and next year.

Higgins confirmed only that Verizon's VoLTE launch would happen sometime this year and he declined to provide a more specific time frame for the launch. He said that, when Verizon launches VoLTE, the service would be available nationwide--meaning, Verizon does not plan to roll out the service on a market-by-market basis. Higgins declined to name Verizon's VoLTE technology vendors.

Higgins said Verizon's VoLTE-powered HD Voice service would work over the AMR Wideband standard, which he said would allow the carrier to connect its service to similar services powered by other carriers. Higgins said this kind of interconnection will create the "scale and scope (that) is critical for this kind of service."

Higgins said Verizon's VoLTE service would be built in to a wide range of Verizon's phones, and that the carrier would add VoLTE service to additional, existing phones through a software update. He did not specify which exact phones would be capable of making VoLTE calls.

Higgins also said that HD Voice and video calling would be the two main services initially offered through VoLTE technology. He said the services would be accessible through a phone's native dialer. He said VoLTE calls would only be supported between two phones than can run the technology.

VoLTE technology represents a significant change in the way voice conversations are transmitted over the wireless network--conversations are transmitted via IP technology on LTE rather than via circuit-switched connections. However, Higgins declined to say whether Verizon would also move its text messaging services to an IP connection when it launches VoLTE.

AT&T last week announced it would launch VoLTE services this Friday via the Samsung Galaxy S4 mini in select areas in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The carrier said it will expand to additional markets and phones in the future. AT&T said the technology would power HD Voice functions but made no mention of video calling.

Both AT&T and Verizon are launching VoLTE after delays. Verizon Wireless in 2010 said the carrier would launch VoLTE by late 2012 or early 2013, but now the carrier expects to launch VoLTE sometime this year. And AT&T had said in 2010 the carrier hoped to launch VoLTE by the end of 2013, a target the carrier reiterated in 2013. But AT&T missed that launch window by five months.

AT&T and Verizon aren't alone in the HD Voice arena, though they are the only major carriers launching the service via VoLTE. Sprint (NYSE: S) introduced EVRC-NW HD Voice about two years ago on the HTC Evo 4G LTE smartphone. The carrier expects to offer nationwide HD Voice sometime in the middle of this year. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), for its part, turned up W-AMR HD Voice on HSPA in January 2013.

In announcing Verizon's VoLTE news, Higgins also provided a few minor updates on other areas of Verizon's network. He said the carrier will soon announce additional details of its LTE Broadcast technology launch, which Verizon has dubbed LTE Multicast. He also said that, as Verizon moves traffic onto its LTE network, the carrier is freeing space on its existing CDMA network and that it could start refarming its CDMA spectrum for LTE. However, he said that the carrier has not yet started doing that refarming yet, and provided no timeline for such work.

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