Verizon to Offer 4G Voice Next Year

Updated.Verizon Wireless plans to implement voice calling over it’s LTE network by the middle of this year next year, putting an end to the “can’t talk and surf at the same time on Verizon’s network” tagline used by competitors. CNN reports that the VoLTE service will initially launch be demonstrated on the LG Revolution an Android 4G handset that was first introduced at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show. Such a move will help Verizon (s vz) fend off data-hungry consumers with new iPhone handsets but could also be premature given that the global VoLTE standard is not yet finalized.

Indeed, when Verizon announced it would carry the iPhone, many feared a network meltdown would ensue given that AT&T (s t) witnessed a 5,000 percent increase in data demand due largely to the popular iPhone (s aapl). But at the time of the Verizon iPhone announcement I noted three reasons why Verizon’s network would fare better, the last being directly related to Verizon’s new LTE network:

A fair number of LTE handsets will be sold where there’s LTE service in 2011. None of those LTE handsets will be hitting Verizon’s 3G network, except for when the handset moves out of an LTE coverage zone. In that case, the devices will fallback to Verizon’s 3G data network. Essentially, Verizon is adding the iPhone at a perfect time, because it will be reducing 3G data demand with its planned LTE rollout strategy. Indeed, I wonder if Verizon timed the LTE rollout to somewhat coincide with its iPhone plans for this very reason.

While I had no idea that Verizon would move this quickly to get voice traffic on its 4G network, the concept of migrating devices, services and customers over to the faster, more efficient LTE network still holds true. By first moving data, and soon voice, to LTE,  Verizon’s current 3G network gains breathing room just as the carrier is expected to add millions of iPhones.

This unexpected news of voice over LTE has another interesting aspect, however. It was just a year ago that the GSMA formed a global commission to standardize VoLTE and at this point, the group hasn’t announced any such standard. Why is that important? Here’s an excerpt from the initiative:

The GSM community of around 4 billion connections is built based on a single technology being used across all networks and all phones and devices.  This has led to a diverse range of GSM-enabled devices, and massive choice of form factor for the end-user.  Similar principles have driven the movement of HSPA from phones to dongles, and now to be embedded in laptops and consumer electronics.  For a Voice over LTE implementation to continue this model, it must be applicable to the entire LTE industry, and not subject to fragmentation or undue diversity.

Essentially, VoLTE needs an implementation much like that of GSM, the widely adopted global standard for cellular phones that enable devices to work across networks from different carriers and countries. Verizon moving forward tells me one of two things is going on.

First, we could hear of an accepted VoLTE standard at next week’s Mobile World Congress and Verizon just tipped the GSMA’s hand. Or Verizon could be trying to push up the timeline for such a standard by creating the model that all other operators will follow. My hope is that the former scenario plays out because the latter situation runs the risk of Verizon creating an outlier standard that isn’t adopted by the GSMA, similar to what it did by using CDMA instead of GSM technology for handsets. In that case, consumers lose out because future Verizon 4G phones may be limited to using VoLTE solely on Verizon’s network, and not around the world where common frequencies could permit such communications.

Update: CNN has modified its initial report, indicating that Verizon will demonstrate VoLTE on the LG Revolution 4G next week, but not roll out such a service until 2012. As such, this post was modified to reflect the correction from CNN.

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