Verizon (NYSE:VZ) has been talking about a next-generation mobile voice system for years. Well, this is the end of the empty talk: Verizon is taking action.
Big Red will launch its voice over LTE service, or VoLTE, in "the coming weeks." This solution, which routes voice calls over Verizon's 4G LTE data network instead of its aging CDMA service, was first promised two years ago. The launch was delayed time and time again, allowing both T-Mobile US (NASDAQ:TMUS) and AT&T (NYSE:T)to launch their own VoLTE services in the meantime.
Verizon reportedly wanted to wait until it could offer VoLTE on a nationwide basis, and the LTE network appears to have met that standard now. Not all of Verizon's 4G smartphones will be able to support the new voice protocol, but the company has been selling compatible handsets for a while.
What's the big deal?
What's so great about VoLTE?
First, these voice calls will be made in a significantly higher quality than traditional CDMA calls. This so-called HD Voice service uses a 60% richer audio standard, making for a much clearer representation of the human voice. Other carriers have been offering HD Voice services before Verizon, either on their legacy systems, or over VoLTE networks. This standard should eventually become compatible between one carrier and another; but for now, Verizon will simply enable HD Voice for calls made between two compatible Verizon phones.
Second, VoLTE adds support for video calls. You should be able to snap back and forth between audio-only and video conversations at any time, adding that personal touch to a regular phone call. Video calls are nothing new, and you may already be familiar with them from apps like Skype, FaceTime, and Hangouts. But this time, it's built into the standard voice calling system rather than managed by a third-party app.
This brings me to the third VoLTE benefit. If you're worried about this rich audio and high-bandwidth video using up your monthly data cap, Verizon promises to treat these calls the same as the regular voice calls from a billing point of view. This means that they count against whatever monthly allotment of voice minutes you may have (often unlimited), and not against your data bandwidth limits. So these new and improved communications services won't dig into your restrictive mobile data caps. Neither FaceTime nor Skype can make that claim on Verizon's network.
Fourth, VoLTE is built on common Internet technologies. It's simply a special case of voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, communications. That opens the door to bigger and better things in the years ahead. Verizon refers to this bundle as "Advanced Calling 1.0," which is an indication of improvements to come. The data-based platform is scalable and open to modifications as new technologies and ideas come along.
The old CDMA network doesn't offer any of these advantages. And if that's not enough to get consumers excited about the new platform, consider that the CDMA-based networks still don't always allow you to access data networks while making a voice call after all these years. Getting around this limit would require activating separate antennas for the CDMA (voice) and LTE (data) networks, which is something popular models like Apple iPhones can't do. That restriction goes away when everything runs over the data connection to begin with.
Verizon has not yet shared exactly which handsets will be compatible with the new standard nor dropped any clues as to how long such phones have been sold. We're also in the dark as to the exact launch date. But the built-in VoIP service is finally coming, and chances are that a very large portion of Verizon smartphone users will be able to use it.
An early demonstration of the technology used an LG G2 handset that has been around since last summer. The popular Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, and S5 models support VoLTE services on other carriers. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones don't officially handle VoLTE quite yet, but its radio hardware reportedly knows how to deal with it, and the next iOS version is said to include software support for VoIP and VoLTE.
Verizon seems ready to open the floodgates on next-generation voice services. Big Red isn't first, and the update may not cover its entire smartphone footprint; but it's a huge step in the right direction. Soon enough, VoLTE will be the new normal in mobile communications -- and everyone will start looking for the next quantum leap.
And so it goes. For now, Verizon stays abreast with the state-of-the-art in wireless communications. And that's a good thing for the company, its users, and its investors alike.