Verizon aims for voice over LTE in late 2013, early 2014

A network executive provides a more specific time frame for when the feature, which could add new services to the traditional voice call, will launch.

Verizon booth at CES 2012
Roger Cheng/CNET

Verizon Wireless plans to launch voice over LTE services by late 2013 or early 2014, according to a networking executive for the carrier.

Consumer trials will begin in late 2013, with service to follow, likely in the subsequent year, Nicola Palmer, vice president of network and chief technical officer for Verizon Wireless, said in an interview with CNET. The target date is a bit more specific than previously announced, with Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo calling for a rollout in 2013. The company was originally expected to launch the service this year.

Voice over LTE, or VoLTE, moves the transmission of voice traffic off of the older network designed primarily for voice and toward a data-centric network. The voice call is broken into data bits and transmitted across the network similar to how an e-mail or song would move across the Internet. As a result, the technology is much more efficient than traditional wireless voice services, allowing for clearer calls and other services that can be linked to it.

Because the call is counted under data, VoLTE could spell the end of phone call minutes on the monthly bill as the service gets lumped together with data. While it means one less item on the bill, it could potentially be confusing because consumers will have to start thinking of data instead of minutes when monitoring phone call usage.

MetroPCS launched its first VoLTE service and smartphone last month in one market, which could affect the strategy for T-Mobile USA, which has agreed to merge with the prepaid carrier. AT&T and Sprint Nextel have committed to VoLTE services next year.

Palmer calls VoLTE the next innovation in the industry and says it's something that will help speed the decommissioning of the 3G network. Once LTE coverage is broad and deep enough, the company could turn an eye into shutting down the older voice-based 1X network, she said.

Earlier today, Palmer announced at the MobileCON wireless trade show that the company was about to surpass its goal of covering 400 markets with 4G LTE , hitting the benchmark two months early.

On the issue of LTE phone compatibility between different networks, Palmer said that moving from carrier to carrier would be made easier because of LTE's use of SIM cards that can be placed into different phones. But she said that phones are often built a certain way for each carrier, and Verizon doesn't test for other carriers. For now, LTE phones can't move to different carriers in the U.S., since they are locked down, or run on incompatible frequencies.

Palmer hinted at some future instances where phones could work across different carriers but said they may not work flawlessly. The use of different frequencies or bands of spectrum even within a single carrier make it increasingly complicated, she added.

For now, it remains a pipe dream for users who like their phones but desire a new wireless service.

 

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