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VoLTE and RCS gain ground round the world

Korea follows Spain in offering interoperable rich messaging between three cellcos, Tele2 brings VoLTE to Europe

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 3 January, 2013

READ MORE: South Korea | Messaging | Standards | VoIP | LTE

After a shaky start, Voice over LTE and its close cousin, RCS (Rich Communication Services) will gain critical mass in 2013, as carriers rush to fend off over-the-top messaging alternatives. The US's MetroPCS and the Korean and Spanish cellcos led the way in 2012, and as the new year dawned, Korea was making further progress, while Tele2 announced VoLTE tests in Sweden.

Although VoLTE has attracted a great deal of attention, providing an IP-based platform for LTE (which does not support circuit switched voice), the revenue model for voice is almost dead, and carriers need to promise a full messaging service over IP, tied to their networks and with clear consumer advantages over OTT rivals like Skype. This may seem a hopeless task, but the effort revolves around VoLTE and, more importantly, RCS, now branded by the GSM Association as Joyn. As seen in Korea, these two will often go hand-in-hand to create a full rich messaging and multimedia communications service spanning 3G and 4G.


While the Spanish cellcos have pioneered Joyn in Europe, unveiling interoperable services last year, VoLTE has been slower to take off in the region, mainly because most carriers are still expanding their HSPA networks and relying on these for voice and text. But Tele2 claims to be the "first in Europe" to test VoLTE on a live network, working with Nokia Siemens and Mavenir Systems on its Swedish LTE network.

Joachim Horn of Tele2 commented: "We have consciously built in support for VoLTE in the 4G network, covering almost the entire population of Sweden. The tests we have conducted have shown tremendous results in a multivendor environment. From a technical standpoint we could be ready to launch commercially within a year." He added in an interview: "Not only does VoLTE enable superior voice and data experience simultaneously for our customers, but the technology is also more cost efficient."

Meanwhile, Korea's three cellcos are emulating their Spanish counterparts and have launched a Joyn communications platform that integrates messaging, voice and data services. SKT joined rivals Korea Telecom and U+ in offering RCS services, and the trio have promised interoperability. SKT differs from the other two in planning to charge for some of the features. It said last week that the new offering, Joyn T, will be free for users of its flat rate 3G or LTE contracts between now and the end of May, but after that there will be certain fees, according to price plan. In one case, video sharing will cost KRW0.33 per second on a flat rate tariff and KRW0.6 on a usage-based plan. Messages will be charged at KRW20 (one US cent) each and file sharing will count towards data allowances. Other early adopters in Korea, Spain, Germany and elsewhere are levying no charges, hoping to use Joyn to tempt users or keep them away from Skype.

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