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4G Voice Still Just a Whisper

Michelle Donegan
LR Mobile News Analysis
Michelle Donegan
5/24/2012
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BARCELONA -- LTE World Summit -- 4G voice services based on Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) technology may not launch as soon as many people thought.

Comments from speakers here in the popular conference sessions on VoLTE -- the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)-based technology that delivers packet voice over all-IP LTE networks -- indicate that the technology is taking longer to implement than operators had hoped. (See When Will Operators Bolt to VoLTE? and Testing Times for Voice on 4G.)

One of the signals that 4G voice timelines are being pushed back came from Network World, which, following an interview with the operator's VP of Network Hans Leutenegger, recently reported that Verizon Wireless plans to launch VoLTE in late 2013. Previously, Verizon had been expected to launch VoLTE nationwide in early 2013. (See VZ Plans Nationwide VoLTE in 2013 .)

Another clue to the state of VoLTE was in Acme Packet Inc. (Nasdaq: APKT)'s first-quarter results conference call. According to the earnings call transcript, Acme Packet CEO Andy Ory said, "There remains some question around the timing of VoLTE deployment, but as we told you last quarter, we do not believe VoLTE spending will have a meaningful impact on our business in 2012." The comment is notable because session border controllers such as Acme's will be a key component in a VoLTE setup.

In addition, there is an eerie absence of devices that support VoLTE at this stage, which could be worrying when one considers that operators such as MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) in the U.S. or LG Telecom in South Korea are looking to launch 4G services later this year. (See MetroPCS Blames 4G Voice Wait on Qualcomm.)

Here at the LTE conference in Barcelona, Danish operator TDC A/S (Copenhagen: TDC)'s director of mobile systems Ove Andreasen summed up the significance of getting VoLTE right with a stark allusion: "We don't want to be the new Kodak."

The worry is that the more all-IP LTE networks are rolled out and the longer mobile operators take to launch VoLTE, the window of opportunity widens all the more for over-the-top voice and messaging players.

According to Andreasen, VoLTE won't take off earlier than the second half of next year in Europe, at least.

"If you haven't built the perfect data network for OTT players, then you have more time," Andreasen said. "You could argue we're too late now if they stay as strong as they are."

According to Bengt Nordstrom, founder of consultancy Northstream , the situation with VoLTE is worse than what he was hoping.

"The understanding I have had is that we knew we could launch LTE in 2009 with routers and dongles; then with handsets using [circuit-switched fallback] and then VoLTE," he said. "But the industry has not sorted out how [VoLTE] should be implemented. It's not like it will be fully working in 2013 -- it's more like 2014."

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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