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Oops! Mobile masters of universe forget mobiles make phone calls

LTE finally finds a Voice

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The strangest of all press releases slid out quietly at Mobile World Congress two weeks ago. The GSMA informed us of a new initiative to set the standard for voice calls on 4G mobile networks.

GSMA VoLTE initiative trumpets a "single implementation for voice", covering roaming, fallback to older networks when LTE is not available, and other standard features of a voice protocol. But um, wasn’t LTE thrashed out years ago? Did they really forget that 4G LTE mobile phones might actually be used for... phone calls?

Apparently so. A source close to the standards process explained to us how:

"Everyone thought everyone else was doing it, so nobody did it," he confirms. "Without a voice protocol no LTE phone user could reach any other LTE phone user."

LTE is the all-data, all-IP network successor to 3G, due for deployment in only a couple of years time, and specifications were first thrashed out five years ago. But this entailed resolving physical and link issues down in Layer 1 and Layer 2 of the network stack. Voice was always just another application. Someone would get around to specifying it sooner or later, except nobody did.

The omission caused alarm amongst operators last year, since they still receive 80 per cent of revenue from voice and text. Eventually OneVoice, backed by Nokia, AT&T, Voda and Verizon was chosen over a rival spec called Volga, backed by Alcatel, the Koreans, and T-Mobile.

You’re probably thinking that any old SIP client will work on LTE, and you’d be correct. But most punters expect a phone to make calls out of the box, and most never use it for anything except voice and text. For the operators to leave voice as a free for all for Skype would mean they already considered themselves dumb bit pipes.

So it's a case of better LTE than never. Now, how’s that 4G text spec coming along? ®

Bootnote

To see the 4G roadmaps in context, see our definitive 8-page guide.

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