International carrier BICS says it's in discussions with operators in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America about its just-launched VoLTE interworking service and expects to be carrying a substantial amount of VoLTE traffic on its network by this time next year.
The international wholesale arm of Proximus , Belgium's incumbent operator, today claimed to have carried out the world's first end-to-end VoLTE call between operators in different parts of the world -- those being Proximus and South Korea's SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) -- and is evidently keen on drumming up interest in its latest offering.
Although other operators have previously flagged successful VoLTE roaming and interworking trials, BICS is somewhat dismissive of many of these efforts, arguing they were done in "lab environments," and also points to the flexibility of its own approach.
"We've done testing on a live network in a live environment," says Divya Wakankar, the head of innovation and LTE product management for BICS. "It's a similar scenario to that for ordinary voice but with better quality and less time delay."
One potentially important differentiator is BICS's support for the different flavors of VoLTE roaming -- local break with home, visited base routing and S8 home routing -- given the lack of any international consensus about which model is best.
Wakankar says the trials also included calls originating on VoLTE systems but terminating on 2G or 3G networks and vice versa.
She reckons the operator's support for all three VoLTE roaming models could give it an edge over the competition but says the real unique selling proposition will come from providing value-added services on top of VoLTE roaming and interworking.
An area of growing interest to BICS is that of business intelligence, which could entail providing detailed analytics to customers about the levels of VoLTE roaming traffic in different geographies.
Such data could help operators to develop new and improved roaming services for their customers. "That will give them greater flexibility and help them to maintain their ARPUs [average revenues per user]," says Wakankar.
BICS CEO Daniel Kurgan has identified the sale of value-added services as a strategic priority for the company, previously citing the move into business intelligence and analytics as an example of the way it is expanding its product portfolio. (See BICS Looks to MVNOs, OTTs for Growth.)
Although BICS says VoLTE interworking is commercially available now, many service providers have yet even to begin offering VoLTE to their customers, including Proximus.
According to research from the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) published in July, some 25 operators in 16 countries globally are now supporting VoLTE, while 103 players spread across 49 countries are making investments in the technology.
Operators in North America and the Far East -- where 4G services are already widely used -- have taken a big lead in this area.
In February, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) claimed to have completed the world's first transoceanic HD VoLTE roaming call during trials with Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) and South Korea's KT Corp. , while LG U+ (also of South Korea) and KDDI Corp. (Japan) said they had introduced a VoLTE roaming service in April. (See Verizon Takes Radio Dot to Detroit, VoLTE Overseas .)
Commenting on the trials involving Verizon, NTT DoCoMo and KT Corp, Wakankar says calls were based solely on the use of S8 home routing and did not consider other options.
Asked when she expected VoLTE interworking and roaming services to take off, Wakankar said there was unlikely to be a huge amount of traffic by the end of this year but that 2016 could prove critical. "It will definitely pick up in 2016 and by this time next year we should have substantial VoLTE traffic," she says. "We can talk about two operators making it live but to get a community will take some time."
During this year's Mobile World Congress in February, BICS told Light Reading that it was working on a trial of international VoLTE services involving a number of service providers, and Wakankar confirmed the operator is currently engaged with operators besides Proximus and SK Telecom on VoLTE interworking trials, though the identities of the other operators is still under wraps. (See BICS Preps VoLTE Trials With 10 Operators.)
BICS recently reported a 0.8% year-on-year fall in revenues in its April-to-June quarter but said that sales during the first six months were 5.1% higher than in the first half of 2014. (See Proximus Raises Outlook on Strong Q2.)
During an interview with Light Reading in April, Kurgan said that MVNOs and over-the-top players represented the operator's fastest-growing customer segments and that rising demand for data services was helping to offset the pressure on voice revenues.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading