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Everyone’s first with VoLTE

Everyone wins with VoLTE

Telcos and kit makers have responded with indignation to last week’s International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium’s (IMTC) announcement to the effect that it had completed the first ever voice over LTE (VoLTE) test on a live LTE infrastructure. While it’s not quite Elisha Gray vs Alexander Graham Bell, it seems that, when it comes to VoLTE, everybody wants to be a winner.

First out of the blocks was Verizon, pointing to its first VoLTE call, made at the firm’s Basking Ridge HQ on the 8th February this year – a “milestone” for which the corporate communications team at Verizon was keen to remind us the telco had received the congratulations of GSMA CTO  Alex Sinclair.

According to Verizon, these world-first calls were made on its commercial network using LG Revolution phones. Employees at the telco made voice calls while continuing to use data services such as video without any apparent effect on the quality of the voice call.

Fast forward to February 14th and this year’s Mobile World Congress, at which Ericsson, Verizon and Samsung made what was, at the time, labelled “one of the world’s first LTE voice calls” on Ericsson’s demo LTE network using Samsung’s 4G LTE handset. The Valentine’s Day voice love-in continued for Ericsson with the announcement of voice over TD-LTE calls made in conjunction with China Mobile, Sony Ericsson and ST-Ericsson – a move that showcased “voice services for the first time.” While Ericsson claims that it and Verizon were the first to demo VoLTE, at the time of writing, it’s unclear whether the Swedish giant is referring to the demo at MWC or the incident at Basking Ridge as proof of its gold medal status. Not that any of this matters if Hong Kong carrier CSL has its way…

CSL  is equally keen to establish its first-past-the-post credentials on the VoLTE front. CSL, a subsidiary of Australia’s Telstra, says that, together with Chinese kit maker ZTE, it made the first VoLTE call on live LTE infrastructure at the GSMA Mobile Congress Asia event. Given that this event took place in November 2010, CSL-ZTE can claim the best part of three months over Verizon’s “first”.

Three months ahead of the chase is pretty good, but surely can’t hold a candle to Nokia Siemens Networks and Samsung’s VoLTE demo at the CTIA Wireless 2010 event in March of that year. This was, apparently, the first standards-compliant instance of a VoLTE call on an end-to-end network between different vendors. This demo was done on laptops sporting VoLTE clients.

The devil’s in the detail – with everyone claiming a little piece of history, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of the fine print which makes each claimant correct in its way. Verizon and Ericsson score on the end-to-end front, as does China Mobile on a slightly different technology. Neither is CSL engaged in what might be called terminological inexactitude – its VoLTE victory came in the form of IMS-based VoLTE calls on CSL’s LTE and existing 2/3G networks, using conventional devices and a laptop with a dialler interface. No swanky, uninterrupted video to be seen, but supplementary services like call waiting and forwarding were also demo’d. Verizon, which was pretty strong in its insistence that it got there first, wasn’t keen to say exactly how its February date with destiny differed from CSL’s the previous November – beyond a simple reiteration of its claim that it was the world’s first commercial demo.

Which brings us back to the IMTC and its SuperOp testing event in Hawaii last week. The first being claimed here is VoLTE in a multi-device, common user network interface setting. On a live commercial LTE network. That’s that sorted, then.

Perhaps the last word on the matter should go to the GSMA’s senior director of technology, Dan Warren, who says the VoLTE event at the MWC was “the dullest demo of the show” because it just showed someone performing the simple act of making a voice call. Which, Warren duly noted, is the whole point of the exercise. “The person on the street will be sold on the marketing of ‘4G’ for a bunch of stuff other than voice, but would they buy a phone that didn’t make voice calls?”. For Warren, “the fun starts when the voice calls become part of something bigger, and that is ultimately what VoLTE is going to be all about.”

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2 comments

  1. Dan Warren, GSMA 15/06/2011 @ 1:56 pm

    In chronological order;-

    March 2010 – Samsung and NSN demo voice calling on laptop clients – first call but pretty basic

    Nov 2010 – CSL and ZTE (with GSMA) demo Voice using the CSL-hosted IMS control – first call on an operator-hosted IMS implementation (plus video)

    Feb 2011 – Verizon Wireless, ALU and LG demo VoLTE and video on handsets on Verizon’s live LTE network, then repeat demo with GSMA at MWC

    May 2011 – IMTC Interop event demonstrates multiple handset interoperability at SuperOp! in Hawaii.

    They are all firsts in their own right and all illustrate progress. Three more firsts are looming on the horizon;

    – first VoLTE network interoperability testing, likely to be MSF IOT event in September.

    – first commercial lauch, late 2011 or early 2012, but who gets there first is anyone’s guess.

    – first live interconnect and Roaming services between a pair of operators.

    We need all these milestones, past and future to get to a point where we can start to see an ecosystem like existing mobile voice begin to develop.

  2. Ed Elkin 16/06/2011 @ 9:16 pm

    The steady drumbeat of various VoLTE firsts show the creativity and readiness of the ecosystem for commercial VoLTE service. VoLTE’s value and readiness is a key point for the Communications Industry’s new mobile conversation.

    As for another market first:

    Feb 2010 – MWC. Alcatel-Lucent demonstrates VoLTE, RCS, and video-telephony using 4G LTE laptops, over a base data load of streaming entertainment video. See http://www2.alcatel-lucent.com/blogs/corporate/2010/02/mwc-2010-can-you-hear-me-now/

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