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Summary:

Verizon is launching four LTE handsets in the first half of 2011, but one, the HTC Thunderbolt, is expected to offer simultaneous voice and data. It’s likely Verizon will keep voice and data traffic separate meaning the solution will only work in areas of LTE coverage.

htc-thunderbolt-lte

The HTC ThunderBolt, poised to soon storm Verizon’s new LTE network, may be the first smartphone to allow simultaneous voice and data use on the network. In a Q&A session at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this month, the operator said that some, but not all, 4G phones launched in the first half of 2011 would offer this feature. News of this feature on the ThunderBolt was found by Android Central in an alleged leaked slide for Verizon employee training on this particular phone. But how would it work?

Using a Verizon handset for voice and web surfing at the same time hasn’t been possible in the past, because Verizon uses one network for both voice and data. So current CDMA handsets on Verizon must pause their cellular data connection in order to use the network for voice. If the leaked training slide is accurate, Verizon and HTC have come up with a solution for that limitation. While it could be some type of VoIP offering over LTE such as VoLTE (Voice over LTE), I suspect it isn’t, for a few reasons.

The GSMA, the governing body of GSM telecommunications systems, launched a VoLTE initiative only last year. The intent is to create a set of standards for voice communication over LTE networks, which unlike current 3G networks, are completely IP-based. It’s going to take time for those standards to evolve, and I simply don’t see Verizon trying to set the standard for the rest of the world, especially since the operator is just now beginning to adopt GSM technologies.

Adding to that challenge is the lack of LTE network coverage; Verizon’s next-generation network currently covers 38 markets and about one-third of the U.S. population. The carrier expects to cover 140 additional markets by the end of 2011. How would a VoLTE-capable phone handle a voice call when leaving a 4G coverage area? The digital call would have to seamlessly route over to the analog network and that’s simply too complicated. As it is today, available LTE data sticks take time to switch back and forth from 4G to 3G, for example, and any delay would create a poor voice experience.

More likely to me is the idea of managing voice and data through completely separate radios within a handset such as the ThunderBolt. In an LTE coverage area, the data connection would be handled on the faster 4G network and voice would simply be handled as it is today: on the CDMA network. Through software management and multiple radios, this solution seems most likely to me in the short term to provide simultaneous voice and data on Verizon’s network. It’s worth noting that among the new LTE handsets, only the ThunderBolt is using Qualcomm’s new silicon, combining a Snapdragon system-on-a-chip with a Gobi-enabled LTE modem.

We should know soon if indeed the ThunderBolt will handle voice and data at the same time because my sources say that among the four new LTE handsets Verizon will launch in the first half of 2011, the ThunderBolt is the most likely one to launch first. That makes sens,e because aside from Motorola, no other smartphone vendor has partnered as much with Verizon than HTC in the past year or two. The other two LTE handsets expected by June are coming from LG and Samsung, which don’t have as much of a smartphone history with Verizon.

It’s possible that some early standard of VoLTE will appear on the ThunderBolt, but my money is on a multiple radio solution that totally separates voice and data to handle simultaneous use. And if I’m correct, that means you’ll only be able to talk and surf on such devices where you have both 3G and LTE coverage. Consider it a stop-gap measure until a true VoLTE standard evolves, which gives Verizon more time to build out its LTE network.

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  1. Sprint can do this with Wimax on the Evo and Epic. Not sure why LTE couldn’t.

    1. It can, but consumers may not be aware that it only works in areas of 4G coverage. And once the VoLTE standard appears, the way it will work (for Verizon, anyway) will change.

  2. Echo the first comment — this is exactly how it’s done on Sprint’s 4G network; 3G for voice, 4G/WiMax for data.

    Honestly, aside the limited use case (at least for an urban dweller like me) of being able to talk on the phone while using your phone as an in-car GPS device, I’ve never understood the dramatic appeal of voice and data at the same time.

    1. It’s called “multi-tasking” and it is a common feature of today’s youth. Everyone knows that the youngsters today can handle texting/sexting and driving at the same time with ease while the advanced-age crowd has much difficulty.
      Hope this analogy helps as the younger generation would be able to rapidly harness this dual-mode feature as it better matches their fast-paced lifestyle. Get the point.

    2. Not a big appeal for me either, but then again, I often have multiple devices, i.e.: a phone that works for voice/data/hotspot and a tablet or iPod touch. Rarely am I on a call where I need to be online at the same time, but for enterprise folks, it might be more of a desire.

      1. For me, the biggest appeal is being able to USE that phone as a hotspot and still take a call. :)

  3. LTE has a feature called CS (Circuit Switched) fallback, where the handset will revert back to 3G when paged for a voice call. This implies 2 radios necessarily, but I expect most handsets to support 3G and LTE radios. Outgoing voice calls will always go to 3G. If simultaneous voice and data calls are possible, both the network and the handset have to support CS fallback, and not just have two radios. Apparently, the VZW network supports it.

    This feature is specific to 3G 3GPP (UMTS, like what ATTWS has) though, but they may have a parallel solution for CDMA.

    VoLTE will only be fully cooked and implemented in Release 9 of LTE, which is in development and QA labs now.

  4. “…you’ll only be able to talk and surf on such devices where you have both 3G and LTE coverage.”

    Technically, voice calls on Verizon (and Sprint) don’t take place on 3G (hence EvDO Evolution Data Only) at all. The phone drops into 2G (1xRTT) to make the call. That’s why the data connection is suspended while the call is in progress.

    But realistically, yeah, it would likely still have a 3G capability since LTE penetration is going to be lower than 3G penetration for at least a couple of years. No one is going to accept dropping from LTE to 2G (1xRTT).

    Still though, the idea of two cellular radios going at the same time? That’s got to be one hell of a hit to the battery. I can’t help but wonder if there’s not another explanation here.

    1. Talking of tech things… CDMA 1X-RTT is 3g, FYI

  5. Duh. Who didn’t figure this out already?

    1. I’d say anyone familiar with MetroPCS who launched LTE before Verizon in the U.S. – their LTE handsets can’t do voice and data simultaneously, even in areas of LTE coverage. ;)

  6. Ya want simultaneous voice and data on Verizon Wireless via a Smartphone or datacard ? No problem: it’s called VoIP.

  7. I wonder if Verizon plans to support SVDO. That would let the handset maintain two connections to the tower – an EVDO session for data and a 1xRTT session for voice.

    1. That’s essentially what the leaked slide says, but not with EVDO and 1xRTT; instead, it would likely be with LTE and 1xRTT. They could go with SVOD on legacy, but I’m thinking it’s not likely at this point. Why wouldn’t they have done it before, is what I’m wondering. ;)

  8. If you want to know what will be the impact on Verizon, read this: AT&T has data and voice capabilities, will Verizon finally? http://exm.nr/h7bHXi

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