T-Mobile and AT&T have both already launched Voice over LTE (VoLTE) services in limited areas, and while Verizon cannot say that they have done so already, they have indicated that they will launch the service later this year. Now Sprint seems to be getting in on the VoLTE game, however, their efforts are progressing in a much more measured manner. VoLTE services enable wireless carriers to transmit voice calls over LTE, a system originally designed to carry data traffic. While carriers have seen revenue losses due to SMS shifting from cellular networks to LTE and they have been resistant to shifting voice traffic there as well, most in the industry now recognize the need for VoLTE services. With diminishing capacity on cellular network spectrums, it has become important for carriers to invest in alternative ways to expand coverage options.
The interesting aspect of Sprint’s entering into the VoLTE arena is their lack of a published timetable. Sprint has repeatedly indicated that they will not rush to launch the service, and is instead taking their time on development. Repeated delays in other rollouts, including their high profile Network Vision, a project designed to integrate a number of different cellular technologies such as 2G with LTE so that all worked together, may have made them hesitant to announce any firm development schedule. Ron Marquardt, Vice President for Sprint Technology Innovation and Architecture has been quoted as saying that VoLTE is not a near term goal of the company and that they will be working behind the scenes in a very measured manner. However, S5GRU blog confirms through an anonymous “high-level” Sprint executive, that VoLTE is currently in the “programming stage” and that the carrier is working with both domestic and international carriers. They will also be working with device and network vendors addressing any support and hardware issues. Once this stage is completed, Sprint will move into the field implementation testing (FIT) phase with the goal of identifying any issues that may delay final implementation prior to equipment development. Sprint VoLTE FITs are planned for Kansas, the greater Chicago area and Virginia.
One of the overwhelming challenges of VoLTE implementation is that when carriers adopt different approaches to the technology, the customer experience suffers. Incompatibility issues affect customers as they roam from one carrier’s area to another. In order to prevent this from being an issue for Sprint customers, the company has placed a premium on partnering with smaller carriers. This focus on interoperability seems to be the key to their plans. Sprint has lined up partnerships with a number of rural carriers, including one with VTel Wireless announced in June. VTel plans to offer VoLTE devices mid-2015, which may indicate that Sprint is planning to roll out the service in the middle of next year.