VoLTE/Rich communications

VoLTE Sparks, VoWiFi Stalls for Orange Romania

Romania is the market where Orange's recent European endeavors in voice over LTE (VoLTE) and voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) services all began.

As Orange (NYSE: FTE) launches the voice services across its European footprint, Orange Romania CEO Liudmila Climoc provided an update on how the services are going in her market in an interview with Light Reading.

Since first launching in September 2015, the adoption of VoLTE in Romania has been "very good," according to Climoc. Indeed, the number of VoLTE users at the end of September was ten times more than in January, she said, without divulging the actual figures.

The growth in VoLTE take-up will depend on the availability of devices that support the technology. In the Romanian market, smartphone penetration is about 50%, and not all of these devices support VoLTE, noted Climoc.

"We see [VoLTE] growing exponentially as new devices are coming on the market," she said. "4G calls are not a big share of our total traffic, but it is a growing trend."

For Climoc, the main benefits of VoLTE are better customer experience with voice calls and more efficient spectrum use.

"The quality is much superior," she said, adding that the call setup times were faster than traditional mobile voice calls and the sound quality is better thanks to high-definition (HD) voice.

"Also, it's an efficient use of our spectrum resource. Inevitably, we will need to invest in new technologies and we will need to refarm spectrum," she said, adding that the operator could re-use the frequencies currently supporting 2G or 3G services.

"That's why it is important for us to migrate users over to 4G and VoLTE," she said.

As for the WiFi calling service, it is still in a commercial pilot phase due to a lingering regulatory issue over how emergency calls should be handled, explained Climoc. Since the location information that mobile operators have is less precise for calls made over WiFi compared with the cellular network, national regulators are tasked with determining how emergency services calls that require accurate location data will be allowed.

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Climoc noted that this issue has been resolved in countries like the UK and Spain. She said that she expects the Romanian regulator to solve it too and provide the regulatory framework by the end of this year. "Then we will be ready to switch it on for all of our customers commercially," she said.

In February, Orange announced plans to launch VoLTE and WiFi calling across its European footprint in 2016 and early 2017, which covers France, Spain, Poland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Slovakia and Romania. Orange also has operations in Moldova, but it plans to launch VoLTE and WiFi calling there in 2018.

So far, the operator has started offering VoLTE in France, Poland and Romania, and says that it has completed all the technical work to prepare its networks for the service in its European markets. In Poland, Orange launched VoLTE in October this year, making it the first mobile operator to offer the service in that market.

Orange's WiFi calling service is now available in France, Spain and Romania, although in the latter market the service is still a commercial pilot.

Orange does not yet provide subscriber numbers for VoLTE and WiFi calling services.

— Michelle Donegan, Contributing Editor, special to Light Reading

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