European operators will be watching with interest how US mobile operator MetroPCS fares following last week’s announcement that it was launching the world’s first commercial Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service.
MetroPCS provides no annual contract and unlimited wireless communications services for a flat rate – 4G LTE deals start at $40 (€32.50) – to around 9.3 million subscribers.
The new service will be provided on the VoLTE-capable LG Connect 4G Android smartphone.
“This move to VoLTE allows us to achieve significant spectral efficiencies and will increase network capacity so that we can enhance the 4G LTE experience that our customers have today,” said Roger Linquist, chairman and CEO of MetroPCS.
The operator was the first US carrier to deploy a commercial 4G LTE network in September 2010 and has since built out its 4G LTE network to cover roughly 90 percent of its CDMA footprint.
It has not revealed what targets it hopes to achieve, but Infonetics Research analyst Stéphane Téral told European Communications that other operators would be looking closely at the business and technical aspects of the launch.
“On the business side, they want to know whether customers are willing to pay a premium for VoLTE and whether they really care about better voice quality when they’re used to Skype,” he said.
From a technical point of view, Téral said it is all about ensuring call continuity between 4GLTE and 3G.
Ed Chao, senior vice president of corporate engineering & network operations at MetroPCS, added: “This initial launch allows us to achieve feature parity with our circuit-switched network thus further enabling the migration of our CDMA base to our more spectrally efficient 4G LTE network.”
Much of the technical success or otherwise will depend on vendor Mavenir Systems, which acted as systems integrator for MetroPCS.
Specifically, it provided its mOne Convergence platform.
Madan Jagernauth, Mavenir’s VP of marketing & strategy, told European Communications that the roll out took the companies nine months to accomplish.
“Any time you launch something like this you have to expect some issues, but I’m feeling confident that everything is in place and I’m not anticipating anything unexpected.”
He will hope such bravado is not misplaced.
Said Téral: “Make no mistake, there is a cost if something goes wrong – just ask NTT DoCoMo about launching the first W-CDMA network in 2001,” referring to the problems the Japanese operator had with both network coverage and devices, which it had to recall.
Jagernauth said Mavenir had focused on ensuring that the multiple elements provide a seamless experience for end users.
“As traffic goes onto the network we will be interested to see how the network copes; there is a lot of learning to be done,” he added.
These lessons will inform what the vendor does with operators in Europe as they begin to launch commercial services later this year.
“This is the start of a new era, we were first and we intend to leverage [what we have done with MetroPCS,” said Jagernauth.
Infonetics expects the number of global VoLTE subscribers to reach about 300,000 this year.
As well as VoLTE, however, Jagernauth said he expected European operators to look at VoWIFI and VoHSPA as alternatives.
Back in the US, Linquist said the VoLTE launch also provides “a foundational capability” for future Rich Communication Services.
“We plan to launch [RCS] later this year," he added.
Before then, however, Téral said operators would want to see whether VoLTE “is ready for prime time or not”.
The clock has started ticking.
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