It's been more than two years since operators first started hinting that Voice over LTE would be widely deployed as a way to make their networks more efficient and provide customers with more advanced voice services. But after many fits and starts, the technology has yet to see any widespread traction in the U.S. market.
All major U.S. operators have said VoLTE is a big part of their network roadmap, however the time frame for commercial launch has shifted dramatically as technical challenges have emerged. Both AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) have openly acknowledged that VoLTE has not been a walk in the park, forcing them to delay launch plans. In February, Kris Rinne, senior vice president of network technologies at AT&T Labs, told FierceWireless that the company was in final stages of optimization and was still working on implementation. But Rinne would not provide a new time frame for AT&T's delayed VoLTE launch.
Likewise, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam admitted late last year that Verizon was still testing VoLTE and hinted that it would start deploying the service, as well as other services like HD Voice and video conferencing, in 2014.
Vendors say that any new voice technology is going to be carefully scrutinized by the operators as they are fearful of alienating consumers by deploying a service before it is fully baked. Plus, many say that whenever you have a technology that must be deployed in the network as well as in the device, there are likely to be more potential glitches.
But McAdam's hint that VoLTE would encompass other services beyond just regular voice is telling. Most experts believe that one reason operators have been reluctant to launch VoLTE is that there is little incentive to do so. Existing circuit-switched voice services are reliable and have been optimized over the years to perform well.
But many believe that voice is ripe for a "renaissance" because little has been done to innovate or improve voice services over the years. Rich communications services (RCS) offers operators the ability to do things like add instant messaging and live video to a voice call, and share that across the network.
These types of advanced services, which promise more revenue, are likely the driver behind the move to VoLTE. And once one operator debuts the service, with some new innovations in voice, it's only a matter of time before others follow.
In our latest ebook, "VoLTE and the Future of Mobile Voice," FierceWireless takes an in-depth look at the current status of VoLTE as well as HD Voice and more. Find out why many in the industry are saying that 2014 will likely be the year of a "renaissance in mobile voice." --Sue