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09 Aug 2017
Last year I took a look at why VoLTE deployments were taking
so long in 'VoLTE deployments: the truth behind the
delay?’ Twelve months on and I now ask; has
VoLTE lived up to its promise yet?
Did you know it has been five years since the first VoLTE
service was launched in South Korea? Well since then a lot has
changed, and the VoLTE landscape now looks profoundly
different. In fact, there are now 102 operators offering VoLTE
across 54 countries, and the number of VoLTE users is expected
to exceed 540 million by the end of the year.
When it comes to VoLTE, APAC is the region that has stormed
ahead of the others with early deployments and accelerating
uptake. North America sits in second place, with Europe lagging
China is well established: Making
the news last week, Zhejiang China Mobile has just passed the
10 million users mark. This is a whopping 10-fold increase in
their VoLTE user base compared to this time last year! For
Zhejiang China Mobile, VoLTE calls now account for 20% of their
voice traffic. The national average across all operators in
China is now 8%, so they really are leading the race.
Europe has been slow off the mark:
Across Europe, VoLTE deployments have been slower than
expected. However, the beginning of 2017 saw many welcome
announcements of VoLTE launches including Telia in Sweden,
Three in Denmark, O2 in Czech Republic and Vodafone in Ireland.
This plethora of recent VoLTE launches shows that momentum is
picking up in the region.
India is hot on VoLTE right now:
Reliance Jio launched their VoLTE service in 2016 and managed
to bag 100 million subscribers. Unsurprisingly, the competition
is now following suit with Bharti Airtel and Idea Cellular
announcing their VoLTE launches for early 2018.
One of the big concerns for many operators prior to
launching VoLTE was the risk of a poor-quality service. After
all, they had spent decades optimising 2G and 3G voice, and
knew subscribers would expect the same quality almost
immediately. Unfortunately, 2016 research by Amdocs found that
across 80 operators, VoLTE calls were 4 – 5 times less
stable that 2G and 3G calls. Ericsson’s Rahul
Karnik puts this down to high dropped call rates due to radio
link failures, and poor handovers.
However, early optimisation is beginning to pay off for
some; RootMetrics have collected Mean Opinion Scores (MOS) for
AT&T and T-Mobile’s VoLTE services in Seattle,
with a score of 3.5/5. This is higher than typical MOS scores
for the area across 2G and 3G voice services. So, it
looks like VoLTE quality of service is beginning to improve,
and over the next few years will likely come close to the
quality we are used to seeing across 2G and 3G voice.
The industry has high hopes for VoLTE;
Ericson’s 2017 mobility report predicts that
global VoLTE subscriptions will reach 4.6 billion by 2022, the
equivalent of 90% of all LTE subscriptions. Of course, one of
the biggest changes we will see is the subsequent retirement of
legacy 2G and 3G networks. In fact, AT&T and the
incumbent operators in Singapore have already retired their 2G
network to free up spectrum. For some countries, 3G will likely
be retired before 2G, since 2G offers revenue from M2M
communications. In Europe for example, Telenor Norway has
proposed retiring its 3G network in 2020, with the 2G network
following 5 years later.
Almost. Uptake is increasing, quality of service looks to be
improving and legacy circuit-switched networks are beginning to
be retired. Of course, most consumers are oblivious to what
technology their voice calls use anyway. The driving force
behind VoLTE is the operators need to reduce costs, and as we
see the retirement of more 2G and 3G networks, it looks like
this goal will soon be achieved.