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Can you hear me now? Verizon, AT&T to make voice-over-LTE interoperable in 2015

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AT&T and Verizon have just started rolling out voice over LTE (VoLTE), but they already have plans to link their two next-generation voice services together. The pair announced plans on Monday to begin interoperability work on VoLTE. Sometime in 2015 an AT&T customers might just be able to make a VoLTE call to a Verizon customer — and vice versa — and see that conversation stay entirely on IP networks.

Why is that a big deal? Well, for the consumer, the most noticeable initial benefit will be higher-quality HD voice calls. A lot of carriers are already offering HD voice, but it’s surprisingly difficult to actually make a high-definition call. Not only do both you and the person you’re calling need to own HD-capable VoLTE handsets like the iPhone 6, you need to be connected to an HD-enabled cell site. And in nearly all cases today, you also have to be on the same carrier. Interoperability won’t solve all of those problems, but at least it means every call you make to a friend on a different network won’t automatically be downgraded to plain old circuit-switched voice conversation.

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The really big advantages, however, will come when carriers start layering chat, presence notifications, file transfers and even video over these new VoLTE frameworks. [company]Verizon[/company], for instance, launched VoLTE in September with a FaceTime-like video chat capability that will work between any of its VoLTE handsets. That’s great if everyone you know happens to be a Verizon customer and has a new VoLTE-capable handset, but until we get interoperability those services will be trapped with their carrier’s individual networks.

You can think of VoLTE as SMS at the beginning of the millennium. All 2G phones had the ability to send and receive text messages, but because every carrier was using its own proprietary technology, there was no guarantee that any message to sent to another carrier’s network would ever be received (imagine if Gmail users could only send email to other Gmail users). When the U.S. mobile industry finally got its act together and standardized SMS, we finally saw the explosion in text messaging already witnessed in other parts of the world.

VoLTE will follow a similar path. What we’re seeing today are in essence proprietary communications services similar to over-the-top communication apps like Skype, Tango and FaceTime. But as carriers work together and plug into standards like the GSM Association’s Rich Communications Suite, we’ll see the applications become more universally interoperable and ultimately more useful to the average smartphone owner.

That means we’re going to need more than just [company]AT&T[/company] and Verizon fiddling around the interoperability lab to make this whole VoLTE thing work. Verizon CTO Tony Melone said that while AT&T and Verizon are playing a duet for these initial trials, Verizon looks “forward to working with other operators as VoLTE continues to grow.”

One Response to “Can you hear me now? Verizon, AT&T to make voice-over-LTE interoperable in 2015”

  1. TechCritic

    I don’t see any reason that the carriers are needed to accomplish a single thing that you mentioned in this article. It can all already be accomplished with OTT services. The only obstacle to OTT services having the same functionality is not a technical one. It’s the carriers intentionally blocking these services, often in sneaky underhanded ways, to keep themselves relevant and prevent the general public from seeing them as the commodity service that they actually are. The industry is an oligarchy where the cost of entry is tens of billions, so the only four players in the market have a gentleman’s agreement not to shift things in the consumer’s interest. If anyone breaks away from the standard anticompetitive tactics, they’ll ruin the absurd profit margins that they’ve all enjoyed for years. The general public doesnt know anything about the business or technology, so they can lie about what’s technically possible and what services cost to provide, and the sheep will eat it up.

    T-mobile created the first real shift in the market in years when the FCC denied the AT&T merger putting it in a position where it could only survive by breaking the “rules” and undercutting its competitors’ needlessly hefty prices and restrictive service agreements. Even T-mobile’s no saint though. They block you from using a data only SIM in a smartphone, and they’ll attempt to charge you extra to use the data you’ve already paid for to tether. It’s not hard to look like a good guy in this industry by being just a little less obnoxious than the rest of them.

    The reality is that the carriers are providing a wireless data connection which is a commodity service. Voice, SMS, MMS, and “data” are all just data. They can all be done over LTE using OTT services right now. The latest version of Google Hangouts can do all three with a real phone number and totally free. No carrier phone number or voice/SMS service plan is needed. The only reason wireless plans include an allowance of minutes and texts is that they use very little data, and if the carriers treated them as what they actually are, they couldn’t justify charging what they do. Luckily for them, the sheep don’t ask questions and don’t think twice when they see yet another incremental bump on their already absurdly overpriced payments.

    If not for these artificially created obstacles, your choice of carrier would be based solely on the coverage area, the speeds, and the price. However, then they would actually have to compete with one another which would lead to lower prices for consumers and faster technological advancement. Instead, they’ve created obstacles like carrier locked phones, carrier branded phones that are “unlocked” but conveniently don’t support the frequency bands used by the other US carriers, IMEI whitelists to keep fully compatible interoperable hardware off of their networks, the fallacy that is allowances for SMS, MMS, and minutes, and subsidized phones to confuse people as to what they’re actually paying for – the service or the phone? – and of course lock them in so they can’t switch when they’re unhappy with the service.

    Open your eyes people! Also, the author of this article should really know better, unless he’s on their payroll in some capacity…