In just the last couple of years, VoLTE, or Voice over Long Term Evolution, has begun to revolutionize voice service for mobile communications, and 2017 promises to be the biggest year yet for VoLTE.
But this rapid growth is bringing two critical needs to the forefront that operators will need to address this year.
VoLTE Market Snapshot
Although most voice calls still use 3G networks, in the next few years operators are expected to make a massive switch to VoLTE. On the operator side, as of late last year, over 90 operators had commercially launched VoLTE services in 52 countries, according to a report by the Global Mobile Suppliers Association. In the meantime, on the consumer side, the number of VoLTE subscriptions is expected to exceed 200 million by the end of 2017, according to a recent Ericsson Mobility Report, and 3.3 billion by 2022, which will then represent 60 percent of all global LTE subscriptions.
This transition will have far-reaching implications that will eliminate the need to have voice and data on separate networks while also enabling a rich multimedia voice experience and new era of next-generation services. But making the move to this new standard involves a number of challenges, including installing new equipment, integrating disparate systems, and completing these changes at every relevant point across an entire national or international network.
In particular, the unique role of voice service in mobile communication and the complexity involved in integrating VoLTE in a circuit-switched network have led to two challenges rising to special importance for operators this year. It will be critical for them to maintain their current quality of voice service that users expect while upgrading their voice services, and it will be crucial for them to integrate IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) as a core technology foundation to enable the most seamless transition to VoLTE.
Keeping Focus on Voice Quality
Voice retains a special place as a mobile service that must be handled with care. Despite the popularity of data services, voice remains the first mobile service that many people first used and the signature service they use today, and in large part they continue to base the quality of their overall mobile service on voice.
Although the main benefit of VoLTE for operators will be the freeing up of spectrum for increasing services for 4G, 5G and the internet of things, users will base their expectations for reliability and quality on the legacy circuit-switched world of their 3G experience. And this experience is what operators must protect at all costs. It’s crucial that both during their switchover and after implementation that their VoLTE service provides the same experience or better.
As an example, if a user today has a call dropped that is made through an OTT app, it’s considered inconvenient but not intolerable. But if a user has a voice call dropped that is made through their operator, then it’s much more serious. For this reason, in 2017 it will be vital for operators to have an airtight plan for guaranteeing no dropped calls, no declines in voice quality, and no other service interruptions during their VoLTE transition.
Integrating IMS as Technology Foundation
Of the several established approaches for implementing VoLTE, the IMS approach has emerged as the most common and cost-efficient one, and one that is increasingly becoming a standard.
IMS is a versatile architectural framework for delivering IP services that provides an open-standards-based interface. Critically, it ensures maximum interoperability with technologies like VoLTE, Voice over Wi-Fi and Rich Communication Services, as well as maximum reuse of an operator’s existing network resources.
In particular, the key advantage of using IMS to implement VoLTE is that IMS’s basic capabilities for authentication, authorization, registration, charging and routing can be used by an operator’s current systems or newly implemented systems. Similarly, IMS is a fully agnostic system that supports seamless handover to other technologies and makes no distinction between different connection types, like Wi-Fi. Finally, perhaps the greatest advantage of using IMS for VoLTE is that it provides a future-proof IP foundation to allow operators to evolve their networks and open a new range of IP-enabled voice and multimedia services across any network, improving the customer experience while optimizing the network to strengthen voice revenues.
Until recently, IMS was complex and costly for many operators to implement, but recent advancements in hosted IMS products have now made IMS relatively quick and cost-efficient to put in place for operators that do not have the capital and operational capabilities. To keep pace with competitors and user demands for rich voice and multimedia services, operators must look to integrate an IMS foundation as a core part of their strategy in transitioning to VoLTE.
As VoLTE becomes a new standard for mobile service, users will increasingly expect access to the same rich, high-speed voice experiences anytime, anywhere. To meet these expectations and move to VoLTE, operators must protect their current quality of voice service and integrate IMS as a technology foundation.
John Wick is the Vice President and General Manager at Syniverse.