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When will voice-over-LTE matter? When it’s no longer just about voice

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After years of delays, voice-over-LTE finally seems to be making its way into mobile networks and phones. T-Mobile recently announced its entire U.S. LTE network now supports the VoIP technology, while Verizon recently revealed it would begin selling its first 4G-only phones in 2016.

As we purchase new smartphones over the next few years, we’ll find traditional 2G phone calls receding into the past and voice or SMS becoming just another IP service. Today, however, consumers buying new VoLTE phones probably won’t notice much of a difference.

These initial VoLTE rollouts are focused solely on voice, which makes sense given the technology’s name, but apart from making the occasional HD voice call to other VoLTE device owners, the service is going to look – and cost – the same as old-school voice calls.

The real promise of VoLTE isn’t voice, but rather the raft of IP services that can be attached to those voice calls. By moving to an all IP network and service delivery platform, voice just becomes another feature in a wide-ranging communication service, all of which can be linked to a universal ID: your ten-digit phone number.

VoLTE could make video chat features like Apple's Facetime standard on all 4G phones (source: Apple)
VoLTE could make video chat features like Apple’s Facetime standard on all 4G phones (source: Apple)

Verizon has already gotten wise to potential of VoLTE for more than just voice. It recently announced that it would launch its new VoIP service nationwide late this year with a video-chat service similar to Apple’s Facetime. But video chat is just the beginning. SMS will become augmented with presence and IM features now common in over-the-top messaging apps. Collaboration and sharing features could be layered on top of any voice or video chat session. Basically all of the new communications features that help make smartphones “smart” will no longer be walled off from the phone’s core voice and texting services.

What’s more, the strict association of a phone number with a particular phone begins to blur. VoLTE will help virtualize our phone numbers, allowing calls to be routed to your web browser when at your desk and switch back to your smartphone when you leave the room.

A single phone could host multiple identities and multiple phone numbers. So for instance, during business hours your phone’s business persona would be active and all calls and messages sent to your “office line” would get prioritized. But as the clock hits 5 PM, that business persona would recede into the background, routing all calls to voicemail and storing all messages for later viewing. At the same time your personal account resurfaces, bringing communications with your friends and family to the forefront.


Most of the capabilities probably already sound familiar to you because they’ve long been available from a bevy of different over-the-top communications apps, ranging from Facetime and Tango to WhatsApp and Google Voice.

The big difference – and perhaps the carriers’ only advantage after being so late to the market – is that VoLTE can centralize all these services in a single client and apply them universally across all phones. OTT apps not only require registration, but their networks are inherently limited by their membership. Every mobile phone owner has a phone number, and even if every device doesn’t support more advanced VoLTE features, any communications session can always default to a phone call or SMS exchange.

But because these kind of communications capabilities have been available for so long — and often for free — in the app stores, the carriers will have a difficult time charging for them. After years of getting free video chat with Skype, Facetime and Tango, there’s no way Verizon can suddenly come out with a $5 video-calling plan.

I recently interviewed the CTO of enterprise communications company [company]Broadsoft[/company], Scott Hoffpauir. He believes that carriers aren’t really building these VoLTE networks for consumers. Rather they’re building them for enterprises, which are much more likely to pay for the advanced collaboration, security and identity services VoLTE will bring.

That calculus makes sense, but I also think we’ll see VoLTE’s best features become readily available to consumers as well. Carriers won’t turn those video chat and IM features into new revenue streams. Instead they’ll use them to preserve the voice revenues they already have. Basically VoLTE will help prevent the carriers’ voice and SMS services from becoming irrelevant.

7 Responses to “When will voice-over-LTE matter? When it’s no longer just about voice”

  1. Kevin,

    I agree with your statement about VoLTE coming to life. I explained why in this blog post: There are technical and business reasons.

    However, the services you describe of smart call routing and such features are not part of VoLTE and don’t even require LTE. Some carriers provide such services but I don’t think they are a great success. Anyway, VoLTE will change nothing there.

    The other services such as presence are already RCS. Again, nothing to do with VoLTE. RCS as we all well know is not really happening. Read here Why RCS Failed: A hint, It standardized itself to death.


  2. Tsahi Levent-Levi


    The services you outline aren’t VoLTE at all. They are RCS. And RCS is dead before it even arrived.

    All the advantages you state are already here and they are coming from other players – none of them a carrier. They are all messaging players: be LINE, WeChat or any other. And they too are living in a dynamic and changing world.

    By the time we will see VoLTE, RCS or JOYN do something interesting, where will the messaging market be? I think it is now shifting from a services market to a feature in other apps:

  3. Isn’t LTE just mobile Internet? So, why would anyone need a special voice-over-LTE service? Why wouldn’t someone just download the Vonage (or 8×8 or Skype or any other VoIP) mobile app and make Vonage calls from a mobile device. Most enterprises already have VoIP systems and most of those include integration with mobile, especially if that mobile voice also is VoIP. So, the need for a special voice-over-LTE service is not clear. Is this just another attempt by telcos to try to convince people that their mobile broadband services are somehow different or special?

  4. smercer

    With sip trunking and Voip in the office I content they are already irrelevant. Really the only thing required of a carrier these days is an internet connection.

  5. Madan Jagernauth


    The incremental services you are describing seem to be RCS, which has had little traction. Only MetroPCS (pre T-Mobile) launched RCS in the USA. The others could have launched earlier — it’s is not a technical challenge as much as a commercial challenge.


  6. deeceefar2

    You talked around it but never flat out said it. VoLTE allows the networks to segregate data for specific services away from the general internet data. That is horrible for the consumer. As you said nothing VoLTE provides is unique or innovative. They are just able to use it to do QOS on the packets and make sure those are delivered while your Google voice call is dropped. That means your neighbor making a AT&T video call is stealing your bandwidth from your Skype call. They aren’t adding additional speed to service this new segment of traffic, they are stealing it from what you already thought you were paying for. Mark my words this is anti-consumer and we will end up paying more for something we already have for free. The internet is great precisely because it doesn’t require specialization to work. If they would find a way to compete purely on internet speed and stop stealing from their users the world would be a better place.

  7. Defunkd Reader

    The real promise is VZ migrating spectrum previously allocated to CDMA voice channels and also trying to lower the royalty bill they pay to Qualcomm for those CDMA patents…