Korea gets world's first VoLTE services
SKT launches 'HD Voice' this week, followed almost immediately by LG U+, with roaming to follow
Published: 7 August, 2012
As so often, while western carriers hesitate, their Korean peers storm ahead. The country's leading cellco, SKT, says it will switch on the world's first commercial Voice over LTE (VoLTE) services this week, as other 4G frontrunners like Verizon wait for 2013. And its smaller compatriot LG U+ will not be far behind.
SKT has scored a series of firsts on its LTE network recently, including deployment of multicarrier technology and small cells. It will brand its VoLTE offering as 'HD Voice' (despite potential confusion with the GSMA-backed technology of that name).
It says the system will not only allow it to start cutting the ties with legacy voice networks, but will also introduce positive consumer benefits which will help it compete with over-the-top VoIP. VoLTE will "dramatically" improve audio quality, it says, as it will use high quality audio codecs able to handle 2.2 times wider frequency bandwidth than 3G voice. Later in the year, the new voice technology will be combined with broader RCS (Rich Communications Suite) features such as content sharing in calls, or voice-to-video call switching.
SKT also says call connection time will be up to 20 times quicker, at 0.25 to 2.5 seconds, than the five second average for 3G. To gain these benefits, both parties on the call will have to use HD Voice devices and subscribe to the service on SKT's network. The first such device will be the Samsung S3, which will come with the new capability from Wednesday. Existing users of that model will soon be able to add HD Voice via a firmware update.
The service will gain greater usefulness once it can be used across different carriers' networks and SKT says that will happen soon. In a statement, it said: "Going forward, high quality voice is expected to be realized among VoLTE customers of different carriers through service interworking among the three Korean mobile carriers."
Indeed, according to the Korea Times, LG U+, the third operator, will also unleash VoLTE this month, initially on its LG Optimus 2 smartphone. KT has said it will go live in October.
After the Korean players, the next commercial VoLTE launch is likely to come from MetroPCS, which has given a timeline of second half of 2012 in the US. Verizon is looking at 2013 while many 4G cellcos, especially those in the GSM world, plan to rely on fallback to 3G for a longer period.
ARCchart estimates there will be over 2 million VoLTE enabled devices in the market by 2013, with the US and South Korean operators accounting for a major proportion of subscriptions. ARCchart estimates that these 2 million subscriptions will account for nearly $56 million in VoLTE service revenues.