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EXCLUSIVE: EE expands VoLTE trial to entire network ahead of imminent launch

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In an exclusive interview with Telecoms.com EE’s Director of Network Services and Devices, Tom Bennett, confirmed that EE’s trial of VoLTE (voice over LTE) has now been expanded to its entire network.

EE had previously said it was aiming for ‘late summer’ to formally introduce VoLTE, and it continues to indicate that launch is close, but achieving the minimum quality of service levels it is aiming for has clearly not been easy. That said, the move to a nationwide trial should be the last preliminary step before, hopefully, a 2015 launch on some devices, with more coming in 2016.

“Our VoLTE service is now live, for a multi-user, multi-device internal trial,” said Bennett. “We’ve been testing  it with a small group for the last few months, and the larger trial will help us optimise the network to reach the necessary performance.

“We will make VoLTE available to our customers when the reliability of the service is as good as our current voice service. We’re currently maintaining a dropped call rate of 0.4% and CS fall back is performing very well – we’ll only launch a new voice service when it’s on a par with, or better than, what customers are currently using.

“We think it’s vital to have wide coverage of 4G before launching a VoLTE service – our target for launch was 90% and we’re now past that at 93%, so we’re confident it can be a smooth experience for customers.”

The move to VoLTE offers many advantages to both the operator and subscriber, but it’s challenging to communicate the benefits as compelling to the end user or to demonstrate ROI to the money men.

From an operator point of view it’s just more efficient to keep all traffic on one technology and it also allows the older generations to either be used for things like IoT or for their spectrum to be refarmed. The main benefits EE will be communicating to consumers are the maintenance of their 4G data connection even when they’re on a call and the ability to seamlessly hand over from wifi calling, which it launched back in April.

“VoLTE – or ‘calls over 4G’ – will keep customers on 4G, even when they’re making calls, that’s the main benefit,” said Bennett. “As well as that, it will enable handover between 4G and wifi for wifi calling. We already have HD Voice in our network over 3G, and the codec is the same in VoLTE, so this is less important – even though you hear operators talking about it as though it’s a new benefit. For us, VoLTE is about being more efficient with how we manage traffic in our network – LTE is inherently more efficient than 3G.”

There’s a bit of a race on for VoLTE in the UK. Three UK has also publicly stated this year as a target for its VoLTE, Vodafone launching VoLTE pretty much everywhere except the UK and O2 thought to be on the verge of kicking its VoLTE trials off. Thanks to its head start on 4G EE has established itself as a UK mobile technology leader and you’d think it would be desperate to maintain that image, but when it comes to VoLTE, Bennett is happy to be circumspect.

“With VoLTE, we’re happy to be a fast follower and launch only when the quality is right,” he said. “Ultimately, we can get VoLTE to a dropped call rate of just 0.1%, but it’s not there yet and voice is the thing on your network that you have to protect the most.”

 

Fotis Karonis, CTO, EE will be providing the opening presentation at the LTE Voice Summit on September 28-30 in London

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