VoLTE levels the playing field for operators

Figures from industry body the GSA (Global Mobile Suppliers Association) reveal that 208 operators in 80 countries are now investing in LTE. But while rollouts aimed at consumers are gaining momentum, a study undertaken by research house mobileSquared indicates that one third of operators have no trials or network deployments underway at the moment.

Although these operators said they expected to deploy LTE at a future date, almost a quarter of those surveyed said they had yet to make any decision on LTE because of spectrum or cost issues.

With none of the 38 operators surveyed by mobileSquared believing that LTE handsets would be widely available this year, it’s hardly surprising that 34 per cent of respondents thought that LTE would not become a viable consumer offering before 2013; a further 18 per cent said that 2014 was a more feasible date. According to mobileSquared, this timeframe ties in with a number of operator announcements: AT&T plans to introduce voice over LTE (VoLTE) by 2013 after an initial roll out of circuit-switched fallback (CSFB) and has begun integrating its IMS architecture.

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, plans to launch VoLTE services in 2012; MetroPCS, having partnered with HTC to roll out a VoLTE-enabled handset, is planning trials for the voice technology later this year.

According to mobileSquared, the adoption of VoLTE by operators is “significant on a number of levels”. Key among these is the price point for IP-based communications. With revenues for voice over internet pricing models close to zero, carriers will be “forced to innovate in terms of how services are offered, packaged and priced,” according to the report. As such, “The most obvious option is to bundle Unified Communications (UC) and Rich Communications Suites (RCS) in a single address book, enabling users to track presence, IM, voice and video calls all with the same identifier – the mobile phone number.”

The report further adds that quality of service (QoS) on connecting network-based mobile VoIP calls will be so much better than over-the-top (OTT) services that a “de facto two-tier system” will be created. “A VoLTE call would be explicitly indentified in the operator domain as real time conversation and routed with low latency transit from network to network, whereas an OTT call would be treated as traditional data on the internet,” according to mobileSquared.

The report, which was sponsored by Broadsoft, concludes that mobile VoIP and the introduction of VoLTE  have levelled the playing field for operators under pressure from OTT players and possibly even given them a competitive advantage, as associated UC offerings that specifically target the business market could prove lucrative. With this last point in mind, it seems that any operators should consider a change in current strategy: 45 per cent of those surveyed admitted that they did not feel they were well positioned to sell LTE as an enterprise solution because of their retail focus. The report concludes that these carriers are missing an opportunity by “not adjusting their business model to include a direct sales force focused on selling more than just minutes of voice to enterprise customers.”

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