India is seeing a digital revolution and there is a paradigm shift in the usage pattern of the mobile phone by the Indian consumer. Consumers are constantly expecting more from their smartphones and one of the voice trends, which will drive the mobile phone market in the next few years, is going to be VoLTE or voice over LTE. Most consumers do not understand VoLTE and hence it is important for the players to decipher the true benefits and challenges in the road ahead for VoLTE.
Voice over LTE, as the name suggests, happens when your carriers allows you to place a phone call over your LTE connection rather than using the circuit switched 2G or 3G networks which are usually used. In simple terms, VoLTE allows voice to become just another app that rides on a LTE data network and hence enables the users to use LTE capabilities to the fullest.
VoLTE supports the wide-band advanced multirate codecs that enable the next level of evolution of the phone call, that is, high-definition (HD) voice. It also provides call continuity across different networks such as 2G and 3G, which is not available with OTT VoIP. The highest possible bit rate can be defined in VoLTE. Currently, the global voice standard supports AMR-WB codec at 23.85 kbps, which is HD voice and VoLTE helps the operators to achieve the same. Also, when compared to OTT services like Skype and Gtalk over LTE, VoLTE sessions require significantly less power, since the processing happens on the baseband processor or modem rather than on the application processor. As the call set-up time is less with VoLTE, the battery life of the user device is increased by 15-20%.
Another key feature of VoLTE service is its ability to deliver rich communication services that offer various features such as file transfer, language translation, voicemail, video calling and instant messaging. This allows operators to compete with the services delivered by over-the-top (OTT) players. One of the best part about VoLTE is that it lets you launch these services directly from the phone’s dialer without opening a separate app.
There is no inter-carrier interoperability and roaming pacts among the VoLTE implementations being used as of now, which implies that someone using a VoLTE network from one operator may not be able to make a VoLTE voice call to a subscriber of another network operator, who also has a VoLTE device.
However, to meet this challenge of inter-operability and roaming pacts, telecos may depend on Circuit Switched Fall Back Mechanism that allows the users to access the Internet using 4G LTE and then switch to a 3G or GSM network for voice calling.
Moreover, Voice on LTE smartphones have multiple radio support. When the user makes a call, the device is pushed off the LTE network and shifts to 2G/3G network to make calls. Since VoLTE technology is not widely spread operators, as of now, have to use the CSFB as it helps people to roam outside the 4G network.
The way forward
VoLTE adoption is set to increase rapidly in the coming years. This would be driven by the various benefits offered to both users and enterprises, including cost-effective voice services, and the delivery of better multimedia services with greater bandwidth and speed.
These benefits hold significance for India, where operators are struggling with plummeting voice revenues and increasing competition from OTT players. With the maturing ecosystem, VoLTE is likely to gain traction in India over time. Major operators are busy implementing LTE networks, but voice over LTE is very complex and is therefore a key challenge that needs to be addressed.
The lack of pan-India broadband wireless access spectrum is a significant challenge to seamless roaming across India. IMS provides the framework to support VoLTE. However, the lack of this infrastructure is the single biggest challenge facing most Indian operators, and preventing them from leveraging their LTE assets fully. Due to this limitation, operators need to rely on circuit switched-technology to support voice calls. Currently, the Indian market is in the initial phase for both LTE and VoLTE.
Even handset manufacturers need to pool in significantly to make VoLTE a reality. As of now, all the handset manufacturers are ramping up their 4G VoLTE portfolio but none of them have smartphones sub 3.5K-4K in the category. The fastest way to increase the uptake of 4G and VoLTE is by providing affordable device bundled offers which will ensure stickiness of the acquired consumer base. Hence, apart from the technology upgrade, it’s also the VoLTE device strategy that will determine its speed of acceptance and success in the country.
To ensure that the 4G VoLTE becomes a success, it is important that everyone joins hands in making it an irreplaceable technology. From OTT players to the handset manufacturers to the operators—mutual understanding among them shall help build a healthy technology eco system. More affordable 4G VoLTE enabled smartphones bundled with data plans and fewer call drops would surely contribute to kick-starting a telecom revolution in the country.
The writer is co-founder, Micromax Informatics