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VoLTE/Rich communications

Analyzing Apple & VoLTE

The news that Apple's new iPhone 6 will support voice over LTE (VoLTE) is a big deal -- kind of.

For mobile operators, an important threshold in the development of 4G LTE has been crossed. Apple, the most successful company on Earth, famous for its focus on user experience and renowned for its attention to detail, has endorsed VoLTE as a superior calling mechanism for 4G-connected phones. Excellent news. The announcement is important and substantial.

Telco vendors are even more delighted. To sell the most advanced iPhone, mobile operators now need an IMS core and a functioning VoLTE service. Their progressive operator customers (that have been testing prototype VoLTE-capable iPhones for some time) are now in full-bore launch mode, and are ready to capitalize on demand for the hottest phone of the year. And for the 4G operators that still haven't committed proper investment, this will push VoLTE into the mainstream and force the decision to deploy an IMS core.

The utility of VoLTE is obvious, and it's great that Apple is now, very publicly, on board. So, as I say, excellent news.

But what are the implications for operators, in the broader context of IP communications or "rich media services," as they're sometimes called in Telco Land? You know, things like sending video messages, photo sharing, conversing in emoticons, and all that stuff we do on WhatsApp or Snapchat -- or for some of you, iMessage and FaceTime?

On this question, I don't think the VoLTE news brings much succor to the telecom industry. Apple still intends to double down on the iMessage and FaceTime ecosystem -- the new features in iOS 8 make that crystal clear -- and operators know it. A 4G consumer marketing executive I met this week was in no doubt that Apple, and other providers, will continue to innovate and develop their own competing communications services. Yes, VoLTE is a better telephony service on 4G, he said, but VoLTE alone is not a game-changer. Most consumers won't even know what it is.

One interpretation of the news, therefore, is that Apple has said to the market: "Okay, you do the difficult, utilitarian voice service, and we'll do the rich messaging and advanced communications. Thanks for all your help."

In other words, beyond telephony, Apple doesn't appear to have left much on the table for operators to work with. There has been no mention of RCS (probably for the best) and, more significantly, no mention of device APIs that will allow other iOS apps to consume VoLTE services. This can change, of course. Apple and operators could make the APIs available, but history suggests they will be cautious, given the potential for things to go wrong if you give third parties access to call control.

To be truly successful as a foundation service, VoLTE needs to be part of the world where communications services can be atomized and aggregated by third-party developers. It's obvious how a VoLTE voice or video call could be useful as a component of a telemedicine or connected car service, for example. Verizon and AT&T have been vocal about that. The challenge is that VoLTE, and other IMS services, are not easily "consumable" by developers today -- i.e., a third-party application cannot easily incorporate VoLTE services. In principle, integration of VoLTE as a component service should be a lot better than today's, frankly, dire user experience when you integrate 3G voice, but operators and the wider industry -- handset makers, especially -- still have work to do to make it happen.

Of course, there are opportunities for VoLTE. It is an optimized, priority access service on 4G networks -- a legal "fast lane," if you like -- and who wouldn't want that? It is a cross-platform, cross-carrier, and importantly, all-IP service that runs on the same radio layer as data. Operators should be able to build on that capability with new services, and they should be able to monetize it. But success in taking VoLTE beyond the basic voice and video service set will be hard-won, and will take time.

— Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

nasimson 9/29/2014 | 9:43:14 PM
Re: Video Calling Interoperability issues @DeafMacMobile:

> There are three problems that I identify with Verizon's VoLTE:
> 1) Net neutrality violation 

How does Verizon VoLTE and video call is violating Net Neutrality? Your second and third  point I could undertand, but not the first one.
DeafMacMobile 9/16/2014 | 12:46:41 PM
Video Calling Interoperability issues Thank for posting your Analyzing Apple & VoLTE.

I do appreciate that Apple push wireless carriers to adopt FaceTime on LTE. I feel the same way with Apple to push VoLTE integrate with LTE.  I knew that Verizon and AT&T try to get around with VoLTE.

For this reason, I use and rely on Video Relay Service, P2P and FaceTime on my iPhone. Once hearing people want to have HD audio quality out of FaceTIme and doesn't want to use video calling. That is how VoLTE created out of LTE.  We were concern about the impact from VoLTE  and LTE on our Video Calling interoperability issues. 

I knew something isn't right with VoLTE.

Been a quite while to wait for Verizon's official annoucment on their own VoLTE - Advanced Calling 1.0  Verizon just posted their FAQ website few days ago.

According to Verizon's Advanced Calling 1.0 FAQs website:

 

6. How much does Advanced Calling 1.0 cost?

Advanced Calling 1.0 service is available at no additional charge.

HD Voice is included in existing plans. HD Voice calls are billed as standard voice calls according to your plan. No data charges apply.

A video call is an HD Voice call combined with real-time video. The voice portion is billed as a standard voice call, according to your plan. The video portion is billed as data, according to your data plan. No data charges apply to video calls transmitted over Wi-Fi.

 

We do have problem with this as both VoLTE and LTE are internet based. I find interesting to see how Verzion decision on voice minute and data plan.

There are three problems that I identify with Verizon's VoLTE:

1) Net neutrality violation 

2) Double billing on Video calling.

3) Video Calling interoperability issues. Verizon VoLTE may not be able to call AT&T VoLTE

Both VoLTE and LTE must integrate into one in order to support our Video Calling interoperability same way with voice calling interoperability. It is time for us to move up next level from voice calling to video calling.

I would like to hear your view on this.
Gabriel Brown 9/15/2014 | 6:56:21 AM
Re: Favour for vendors @naimson -- I wouldn't describe it as a favor. Apple has added VoLTE in its own (and its customers') best interests. As always, it's also a co-development in the sense that devices and networks need to evolve in tandem.

@sachinEE -- I think I see your point: just run voice-over-IP and don't worry about telco-grade telephony? I can see where that approach would work, but an operator doesn't really have a choice: it needs to offer proper services that work reliably.

On devices, from what I hear Samsung has the most advanced VoLTE program. The couple of trial services I have used have been on Samsungs. And the live AT&T service in the Chicago area (which is excellent, btw) is also using Samsung.

@daniel cawrey -- Yes, I think progress will be a relatively constrained pace initally. This is one of the challenges for third parties that want to work with VoLTE: if only a smallish percentage of an operator's users are on VoLTE, and that operator has only, say, 30% of the natonal market, the developer's reach is pretty limited. This may well be where there's a role for aggregators of some kind.

Bear in mind also that while initially adoption might be slow, the ground-work and platform development underway today is really intened to capture and support very rapid VoLTE growth when it does occur. My estimate is that VoLTE will start to ramp in the next two years as devices come to market. As an operator, you have to be active now to be prepared for that.
Gabriel Brown 9/15/2014 | 6:37:34 AM
Re: Not Giving up Messaging @mcgrathnr Thanks.

I agree seperate stacks are not ideal, but the situation is what it is. Perhaps a benefit of this is the innovation in messaging we have seen (continue to see) because it is not tied to carrier voice. And you can run VOIP 'over-the-top' as a component of these services and often achive good or even great quality on 4G.

In terms of standard voice + messaging services, everyone's looking to see what WhatsApp does, and to see if it's any good.

But I do also think that there's an important and valuable role in carrier VoLTE and IMS. There are use-cases where you really need carrier-grade reliability (e.g. medical) and many where high-quality and reliability would add a lot of value (e.g. calls between professionals). 

The busiest LTE networks worldwide are now starting to be highly loaded at busy hour and it appears very likely that less advanced markets (e.g. Europe) will hit this point in a year or two. In these cases, priority access should ensure consistently good service for VoLTE. 

 
danielcawrey 9/14/2014 | 2:19:23 PM
Re: Not Giving up Messaging I think we'll see a slow progression for this.

I believe in the potential for VoLTE, but I think we're still in some early phases of 4G LTE right now. Will consumers and businesses want access to more througput? Of course they will. But I don't think there is a clamor for this, at least not yet. 
SachinEE 9/13/2014 | 2:34:19 PM
Re: Not Giving up Messaging With data calls made easily now with the help of an app in the mobile itself, stressing on network related calls when there is a web connection is a waste of time and money. I think network traffic needs to increase with lower than ever call rates and better up-time.
SachinEE 9/13/2014 | 2:31:34 PM
Re: Favour for vendors I think that is a given. Telco vendors have a lot to prove themselves when they pair up with giants of companies. It was always a mutual existing relationship. Apple renewed it.
nasimson 9/12/2014 | 10:54:06 PM
Favour for vendors Apple has done a BIG Favour for telco vendor industry. Now Samsung will do the same for its new models and so will Huawei and HTC. Earlier the phones had followed the network innovations and now the phones are pushing for and catalyzing the network modernization. Tides have turned.
DHagar 9/12/2014 | 6:11:58 PM
Re: "Not Giving Up" mcgrathnr, I fully agree that Gabriel's article is an excellent one - well written, good analysis, and articulate in defining the industry.

It appears that Apple is the right player to fill the space you are referring to.

I am wondering if they will be the primary provider, claiming the advanced position for themselves?

 
mcgrathnr 9/12/2014 | 5:28:36 PM
Not Giving up Messaging Great Article, couldnt agree more on your analysis, expecially concerning iMessage. FB, Apple, Google and the OTT's understand the value of messaging, in as much that voice minutes are declining and messaging usage is increasing. Carriers are all getting behind RCS as the method of keeping users engaged on their level with their partners and their content. 

The separtion of voice and messaging does leave a gap on Apple when it needs to add additional features to a voice call, which is another key feature of VoLTE and RCS. The delivery of rich information within the alling UI at the start of the call, during a call and at the end of call is very cool technology that is harder to do with separate stacks. 

Separation of Voice and messaging is therefore not ideal, but if you have to pick one - keep messaging 
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