First step in a long process
All the major U.S. carriers are expected to use the same standard for VoLTE and work together to make sure customers can make VoLTE calls to their friends who use other service providers. But the migration will take several years. T-Mobile offers nationwide VoLTE and AT&T hhas introduced VoLTE in parts of its coverage areas. Sprint offers HD Voice service today over 3G, but hasn’t said when it will introduce VoLTE.
Even at Verizon, the technology will be rolled out in several steps.
First, Verizon needs to make VoLTE work on the phones that its own subscribers are already using. Last week, the company demonstrated the new feature on an LG G2 smartphone and said it will also be available on several smartphones around launch time, but it wouldn’t name those devices. The first batch of phones will graduate to VoLTE through over-the-air software upgrades, and their owners will get to choose whether to activate VoLTE.
Starting in 2016, Verizon expects to start shipping some phones that rely solely on LTE for voice calling. Over time, the carrier will fill in its 3G-only areas with LTE coverage until the last 3G cells are turned off, but that won’t be until at least 2020, the company says. By then, all the handsets it sells should be VoLTE-only.
In Alaska, Verizon’s getting a head start on LTE-only service. It’s selling mobile voice service for the first time in the state thanks to the VoLTE launch. Verizon turned on an LTE network and launched data services in the most populated areas of Alaska last year. It won’t build a 3G network there at all, instead relying on roaming partners for additional coverage.
In time, Verizon also hopes to add more IP-based services, such as text chatting and file transfers. There’s a whole portfolio of standard communications technologies, called RCS (Rich Communications Services), that might help carriers offer alternatives to features already delivered by so-called over-the-top Internet providers such as Google and Skype. The advertised advantage of RCS, and of Verizon’s new VoLTE voice and video calls is that they are more tightly integrated with the carrier’s network and user interface.
However, RCS appears to be an over-engineered response to services from Internet companies that already had a long head start, Tolaga’s Marshall said. “I don’t see them competing at the bleeding edge, by a long shot,” he said.