Will 4G Voice Silence Indie Talk Apps?

5:00 AM -- All the voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) announcements yesterday marked the start of a new way to deliver voice services on mobile networks, but is the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)-based technology the only option for delivering 4G voice services? (See 4G Finally Gets a Voice.)

The industry's VoLTE pioneers are SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) in South Korea, MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) in the U.S., and reportedly South Korea's third mobile operator LG Telecom (U+), which all announced commercial 4G voice service launches on Tuesday. [Ed note: We'll leave them to duke it out over who was first.] (See South Korea Hears First 4G Voice Service and MetroPCS's Sells First VoLTE Handset.)

These operators have kicked off something new for mobile voice services. VoLTE enables the delivery of packet-based voice services on 4G networks as well as the potential for other new service creation. For example, both SKT and MetroPCS appear to consider VoLTE as a foundation for other rich communication suite (RCS)-based services, as both say they plan to introduce RCS services later this year.

But with demand for over-the-top (OTT) voice and messaging options already on the rise on mobile broadband networks, will VoLTE ultimately be the primary way voice and messaging services are delivered?

VoLTE is often hailed as the telco fight-back to third-party over-the-top (OTT) providers that have been eating operators' messaging and voice revenue lunch lately. But some of the telco-grade benefits of VoLTE -- such as roaming, interoperability, quality of service -- only happen when many operators have deployed VoLTE.

That scale looks likely to happen in the U.S. and South Korea, as other operators are gearing up for VoLTE services. (See T-Mobile Hunts for Voice-Over-LTE Talent, Sprint Hiring for 4G Voice and VZ Plans Nationwide VoLTE in 2013 .)

But it's worth considering what the alternative is to VoLTE for 4G voice services: Should operators work with OTT messaging and voice providers to deliver what many of their customers want, or improve network quality for those services to provide a better user experience? Or just offer their own VoLTE service in hopes customers find it's better than OTT options?

As new 4G service options are wide open, perhaps operators will find they are doing a bit of all of that.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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