Voice Takes Center Stage Again

Filed in LTE, Roaming by on October 28, 2014 0 Comments

VoLTE-ThumbnailA new way to deliver voice calls promises to make mobile networks efficient on a whole new level. Voice-over LTE (VoLTE) will enable once-dedicated voice space to be used to also run data when not being used for voice calls, something current technology doesn’t allow. This new technology standard was a major focus of the recent 2nd Annual LTE Voice Summit in London, where I had the privilege to take part in this conference and from which I would like to share a few insights.

Many voice calls on mobile networks still rely on old technology. Older networks were built for voice traffic with a data pipe running through it, but newer networks are primarily data-centric. To maximize efficiency gains, operators are now aiming to eliminate the dedicated voice channels needed by older technology and clear the airwaves for the latest standard, VoLTE.

To do this, operators are beginning the complex process of converting voice calls into managed IP data traffic so the same airwaves can be used for voice or data. The process is opening a number of new opportunities as well as new challenges, as complex kinks must be worked out, network equipment installed, and mobile devices made with the necessary hardware.

I had an opportunity to discuss this at the LTE Voice Summit, an event that drew more than 200 attendees, including leaders from mobile network operators (MNOs), network and infrastructure providers, application and service developers, and handset and equipment manufacturers, to share some of the latest advancements in LTE voice technology and service.

At this year’s conference, I had the privilege to share my views in a panel session titled “Discussing the Implementation of VoLTE Roaming” with several distinguished participants from leading mobile and technology companies. In addition to the insights I offered at that session, I came upon some more realizations at the conference. Curiously, during a tea break, it occurred to me that rather than a conference on cutting-edge technology and the next generation of mobile services, this year’s event was more like an international conference on weather and the emergence of a “perfect storm.” This phenomenon is an extremely rare combination of factors that occur to produce a mega-event, and this is exactly what I see happening with VoLTE and voice service now.

Specifically, I think four forces are coming together:

  1. The commoditization of legacy voice service – Voice is now considered a basic service that everyone takes for granted. While mobile data has undergone a dramatic transformation with the advent of new mobile technologies and their adoption globally, there hasn’t been much of innovation and differentiation on the voice side. As a result, legacy voice has become a commodity service.
  2. The phenomenon of OTT (over-the-top) voice service – OTT voice service is no more a fringe phenomenon. In the last couple of years, OTT players have been gradually eating into the mobile voice business, especially in international calling and international roaming for voice domains, where the costs for traditional mobile voice services are perceived to be exorbitant. As a result, both mobile VOIP subscriber penetration and mobile VOIP revenues have grown significantly. This has given MNOs a cause for concern and the impetus to rethink their strategies to counter the OTT threat.
  3. The desire to move to a single network – The evolution to high-speed, high-bandwidth data-centric networks is becoming both inevitable and mainstream for MNOs. At the same time, the direct and indirect costs of running two networks, one for voice and one for data, are considerable. For these reasons, MNOs are increasingly looking to integrate their networks in a single all-IP network that is also future-proof. This, however, requires operators to migrate legacy circuit-switched voice services to the new packet-based network topology. Personally, I look at this not as a compromise, but as a huge opportunity for MNOs to innovate their services (voice in particular) and also take the OTT threat head-on in the process.
  4. The laying of a foundation for next-generation services in an all-IP world – As mobile networks converge to all-IP systems, and as operators deploy IMS (IP Multimedia Services) to bring voice service to IP-based LTE networks in the form of VoLTE, a number of new opportunities will be created. MNOS, application and service developers, and entertainment and content distributors will have a new foundation on which to create innovative and enriched services based on IMS.

After being eclipsed by data service and smartphone functionality recently, voice communication is truly taking center stage again with VoLTE. Its growth serves as a good lesson in that what some may see as a moment of crisis is really a moment of opportunity. VoLTE beckons a new chapter of mobile, and I for one am excited to be a part of this journey.

Do you think the mobile world will be redefined with VoLTE? Do you think VoLTE will mark a new era for voice service? I would love to get your thoughts in the comments section.

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About the Author ()

As Senior Strategy Director and Head of Industry Standards at Syniverse, Pradeep Bhardwaj serves as a senior technology adviser overseeing strategic initiatives to advance the adoption of leading-edge technologies and standards, such as 5G, the internet of things, mobile edge computing, LTE, and VoLTE. Pradeep joined Syniverse in 2005 and has built a career that encompasses more than 26 years of experience with mobile operators and telecommunication companies in the areas of GSM, fixed-line, international, wholesale, international roaming, messaging, signaling, satellite, data, and IP communications. Pradeep’s emphasis is on technology strategy, industry standards, systems engineering, and architecture. Among the leadership roles he has held in the industry, he served as the chairman of the GSMA Hubbing Provider Interworking Group from its inception to its end. He may be reached at pradeep.bhardwaj@syniverse.com.

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