Wireless provider Verizon is gearing up for a nationwide launch of its Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) service over the next several weeks, promising clearer and crisper phone calls and a Skype-like video chat service. The company announced the imminent service during a demonstration and briefing for media members Tuesday.
Verizon said its customers would have access to a new high-definition voice service, improving the sound quality of voice calls, as well as the ability to make or accept video phone calls from their device without having to launch an app first.
Verizon will not charge extra for the video chat service or the HD-quality voice service. When made as part of a Verizon service plan, HD voice calls will count as regular voice calls. Customers on a share plan will be able to make unlimited voice calls using the VoLTE service.
Video calls, meanwhile, will be counted as data, so calls made using the service’s video chat feature will count against a customer's data package.
Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy in Texas, told us the ultimate takeaway for customers from the new service might be greater reliability.
"Consumers aren’t asking for technologies that improve voice quality for calls, which VoLTE does well, but they are asking for more reliable connections," Moorhead said. "An all-VoLTE system is years away, but does help with dropped connections because it’s run on state-of-the-art equipment."
Currently, most wireless providers transmit voice calls over regular circuit-switched networks, and subscribers use an IP-based 4G LTE network to access the Internet and other data services. VoLTE, on the other hand lets wireless operators use the data network to transmit voice services the same way they use it to transmit data. This lets companies offer higher-quality voice calls along with services resembling those that that Internet app developers offer on the open Internet.
Putting voice calls on a 4G data network lets wireless providers’ networks run more efficiently. One way this happens is by that moving away from circuit-switched technology to VoLTE, providers can re-use older spectrum that used to be allocated for circuit-switched voice service. With that spectrum available, providers can use it to deploy more high-speed data services, thus an increase in capacity that can lead to faster service.
On the down side, the video chat feature and the HD voice will only work when calls are placed between two Verizon customers, each with a VoLTE-capable phone. VoLTE calls cannot be made between different wireless operator networks.
An exact date for the debut of the service has not been announced, nor has it been revealed which devices will initially support it. Adding VoLTE will likely at least require an over-the-air software update to many devices, though.
Verizon isn’t the only company on the move toward VoLTE service. AT&T's VoLTE service is already available in select markets, while T-Mobile offers its service nationwide.
"VoLTE primarily benefits the carriers who can start to remove support for legacy networks, enables more calls to operate in the same bandwidth, and removes the complexity of having separate data and voice networks," Moorhead said.