A series of recent announcements indicate that the U.S. mobile market may be nearing the long-awaited transition to Voice over LTE (VoLTE). The second-largest operator, AT&T, launched its pilot program with the technology in May. While the program will begin only in selected areas of the Midwest and exclusively on the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, the operator has promised rapid expansion. Following that expanasion, and perhaps driven by it, Verizon Wireless, the country’s largest operator, announced that by the end of 2014 it will offer the service nationally. In a release Verizon stated that its leading LTE network combined with its strategy of a single national rollout, would provide the most customers with access to high-quality VoLTE services the fastest. Beyond this news, Verizon Wireless announced that its VoLTE rollout would include a new video calling feature that will use the technology to provide native functionality similar to Skype or FaceTime. Further, recent FCC disclosures revealed that Verizon had already struck interconnection deals with both Sprint and T-Mobile for VoIP traffic, deals that could eventually serve as a framework for VoLTE roaming agreements.
While both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have already fallen short of their initial timelines for VoLTE (AT&T projected rollout for the end of 2013, while Verizon Wireless had initially planned for late 2012 to early 2013), it now appears that both are closing in on a launch. A major “X factor” in the U.S. adoption of VoLTE will be the consequences of Sprint’s prospective purchase of T-Mobile. T-Mobile was the first to launch VoLTE in the U.S., with a three-device pilot program in Seattle that began on 22 May 2014 and is scheduled to expand throughout the year. Sprint, on the other hand, has no announced plans for VoLTE, relying instead on its CDMA network to provide HD voice calling. It will be interesting to see which course the combined entity pursues following the acquisition.
The benefits for of VoLTE for operators are clear and much discussed. In the coming months, it will be critical to examine these test programs and rollouts to see if any operator can capture a competitive advantage by implementing the technology faster or more effectively.
The above item appeared in a recent issue of The Tarifica Alert, a weekly resource that analyzes noteworthy developments in the telecoms industry from around the world. To access all of the latest articles and issues: http://www.tarifica.com/TarificaAlert.aspx