Mobile use is changing thanks to a new way of making calls. It’s called VoLTE (voice over LTE) and promises faster connections, clearer audio and better service.
VoLTE involves sending calls over high-speed data networks, rather than through a dedicated voice channel and will replace the existing 3G technology used for voice calls over the cellular network.
First to launch was Metro PCS in 2012, followed by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile in early 2014. Apple joined the move when it announced its new iPhone 6 models would make VoLTE calls. Optus, Vodafone and Telstra have completed VoLTE trials in Australia.
Is this the next stage on the path towards 5G?
Improved sound quality for voice calls
VoLTE treats voice like data, allowing it to transmit both at the same time without the need for an extra radio. Subscribers of VoLTE should notice calls have improved sound quality, as each of the big three carriers offering VoLTE are using it to roll out HD Voice, a standard for higher-quality audio calls.
With VoLTE, the data network should be much faster than the old voice one and calls should connect much quicker. The technology gives the carriers more capacity, in order to allow for streaming video, song downloads and other services.
Another advantage is consumers don’t have to worry about using up their data allowance, even though VoLTE routes calls over the data network. For now, at least, the carriers are treating VoLTE calls like traditional ones, with unlimited calling options being offered in subscription packages.
Prioritising voice calls over other data traffic
Many carrier networks are based on CDMA (Code-division Multiple Access) technology, where several transmitters can simultaneously send information over a single channel. However, these can’t handle voice and data transmissions over one wireless radio. This is why you can’t, for example, surf the Web whilst making a phone call when you are away from a Wi-Fi hotspot, unless you have a smartphone that has an extra radio in it, which comes at the expense of battery life.
The carriers are also prioritising VoLTE calls over other data traffic to ensure consumers get consistent sound quality, even when their voice calls will be mixing with other data traffic.
Customers will benefit when VoLTE is introduced because the 3G channels used for voice calls will eventually be reallocated to provide increased bandwidth for data, but it will be a while before many consumers are able to use the new calling service. Even if your carrier supports VoLTE in your area, you’ll only be able to access the service if you have one of a handful of new phones.
Another problem is roaming from a tower that supports VoLTE to one that doesn’t. This will cause your call to drop. Both caller and recipient need to have VoLTE-capable phones connected to VoLTE-capable towers on the same network and the moment and it’s not possible to make HD calls from one carrier to another.
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