Are you ready to move to Voice over LTE?

Voice over LTE blog post

LTE is being deployed all over the world at breakneck speed to cover the vastly increasing demands for data from people and their machines. LTE is primarily being sold as a data technology, but people still tend to see their smartphone as a voice device first with data capabilities added on. When these oh-so-smart smartphones fall down on the job and have a hard time fulfilling their primary function as a voice phone, it becomes a bit of a joke.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is designed to enable voice calls over a 4G LTE network, but a strange thing has happened: hardly anywhere in the word is Voice over LTE commercially deployed. Why is that?

Well, when you deploy a new LTE network, it is financially and logistically difficult to do everything at once. There are stopgap solutions, mostly CSFB (Circuit Switch Fall Back). In CSFB, the key word is “fall”. If a person wants to make a call or if somebody is trying to call that person, the phone falls back to good old 3G or 2G network. This is a clunky workaround and a resulting issue that we have seen with a few of our network operator customers is that to establish a call end to end can easily take 5 to 6 seconds. That’s a long time to wait while shouting “allo allo” in that crowded train station with all those eyes on you. At the LTE World Summit earlier this year, we even heard the story of an unhappy Scandinavian customer who called his operator’s help line because he kept missing incoming calls while using their LTE network. He was told that they just knew how to fix it: simply go to the phone settings and disable LTE!

In the US in particular, the workaround is to get a phone to be connected at all time on both CDMA (for voice) and 4G LTE (for data). However, the predictable drain on battery life is a killer.

On the other hand, Voice over LTE really is the obvious way to go. It has a unique connection and is thus a much simpler and safer way to implement both voice and data services. Crucially, it also comes with a much better spectral efficiency. You can pack 6 times as many calls on LTE as on an ancient 2G circuit-switch, and at least twice as many calls than a 3G circuit switch. You remember the charming operators in those black and white films plugging a cable literally from one number to another in a cabinet to connect your call? That’s circuit switching.

Radio frequency allocation is certainly a very precious asset to optimize. There’s also the threat of OTT applications who get the edge by offering extra services around the basic voice call, high definition calls, video, chats… (often for free!). LTE design is based around enabling different levels of QoS (for different pricing) and VoLTE is based on IMS which is a complete platform for all those extra services and quality levels. Those IMS platforms are being deployed by a number of operators for RCS /eRCS services over 3G right now and integration to LTE is the obvious next step.

So, again, why are we not seeing more comprehensive VoLTE deployments?

Well, look at where VoLTE is fully deployed commercially: South Korea, which is also the only country with full LTE coverage. In spite of all the commercials shouting, LTE coverage is very far from universal in the vast majority of countries. If you don’t have full coverage, then you have to deploy SRVCC to fall back (again) to 2G / 3G whenever the customer leaves 4G coverage. It still means you will need to upgrade ALL your MSCs, a substantial and disruptive cost.

Voice over LTE

VoLTE is also still a very new technology. Good old reliable “circuit switch” just works. All those difficult systems like billing and roaming are already in place. VoLTE is notoriously heavy on battery life, though all key suppliers are working on more sophisticated chips to overcome this issue. Release 11 covers current radio block use issues as well as mitigating cell edges and interference problems. Current mobility issues we can see over young LTE deployments are being ironed out.

So it is time to move to VoLTE? It depends a lot on your current set up, how wide your LTE deployment is going to be in the next year, how integrated you are already with IMS, how upgradeable your MSCs are, and how keen your customers are to upgrade to the latest LTE phones. It’s really a question of when rather than if. When making the decision, it certainly helps to have a good view of your customers’ experience.

Thoughts from LTE World Summit

We’re back from the recent LTE World Summit in Amsterdam, where we had the opportunity to get together with network operators and other market players and catch up on the latest trends and developments shaping the technology. In this dynamic industry, there’s always something big and new around the corner, and it’s great to take some time to step back and take stock, and the overall tone of the summit was warmly positive. The buzz around the growth of LTE as networks continue to proliferate and move from strength to strength was encouraging. SK Telecom reported an impressive 73% penetration rate, with 4G usage doubling compared to 3G and ARPUs rising by a full 28%. They’ve also added over 4.5 million VoLTE users, a remarkable achievement by any reckoning.

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Big-Picture Thinking and Big Data: Growing LTE Revenue in the Face of Shrinking Margins

The financial landscape for CSPs this year remains rocky. Profits are continuing to fall, with major players such as Telefonica, DTAG, and Vodafone reporting significant drops in revenue. Margins are continually squeezed, competition from OTT players like Google and Apple is fierce, and CSPs must now build out next-generation LTE networks to meet the demand for mobile data services.

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Analytics, Ford and OTT Threat

As the dust settles on MWC 2013, I thought I’d share my Top 3 takeaways from the show.

Firstly as an industry, we seem to have overcome our initial excitement around big data technology and are now more focused on how we can use this technology to drive business success.

In a recent webinar, The Now Factory promoted the concept of having a ‘narrow focus on big data’ by encouraging people to focus on their business objectives and apply Big Data technologies to address these. This was different to the more common approach of focusing on deploying a Big Data technology platform and then figuring out what to do with it. At the recent MWC show in Barcelona, I was encouraged to see more and more people taking the narrow focus point of view, and that gaining analytical capability into big data is now a much stronger theme within the industry.

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Apple calling the shots on LTE performance?

According to a report in, Apple is refusing to offer its newest iPhone 5 as an LTE device unless operators can pass a number of stringent network performance tests set by the leading device manufacturer.

On first look, the story would seem to point to the growing influence and control device manufacturers like Apple are exerting over network operators.  Some use the story as further evidence that operators are being relegated to the status of dumb pipes. But in another way, the story highlights the importance of device manufacturers and network operators working together to deliver the best possible experience for mobile customers. One thing that has helped Apple to become one of the World’s leading technology companies is its obsession on the user experience, spanning everything from its tightly closed OS to the design of its products.

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LTE: Unlocking the immediate ROI opportunity

When it comes to mobile services, the relationship between the carrier and their customers today is perhaps a parental one. The customer looks to the carrier for security of service. When they have an issue with Netflix or an OTT messaging or VoIP service like, Google Talk or Whatsapp, they don’t contact Netflix or Google; they contact the carrier. This presents as much opportunity for carriers as it does a challenge in enabling differentiated service, not strictly through applied Quality of Service parameters, but by engaging with 3rd party service providers for engineered delivery. This provides not only for savings in network utilization but also an enhanced customer experience.

At the recent LTE North America 2012 conference in Dallas, senior representatives from carriers and vendors got together to discuss both the challenges and opportunities presented by emerging LTE technologies.

LTE sets the framework for carriers to improve the Return on Investment (ROI) from networks tuned for high-speed, low-latency applications and services. Existing network technologies, although capable of providing similar speeds to introductory LTE, fail to deliver the lower cost per Gbps demanded by carriers in order to improve the ROI, as richer, data-hungry services are integrated more and more into our every day lives

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TuMe or not TuMe?

I’ve been using WhatsApp for more than a year now, and I like it. I use it a lot for sending picture messages to family abroad, where its a big improvement on expensive (and unreliable) MMS. I’ve also recommended it to friends. But recently it has stopped working until I agree to install an new update. This latest update is going to give it permissions to read additional profile and contact info from my phone. While I understand it makes sense for a messaging app to need access to my contact data, I’m always a bit nervous giving more of my personal data away to a company I don’t know very well.

I also installed Telefonica’s new messaging app TuMe recently, to see what it is like, but I haven’t used it a whole lot yet – mainly because only two other people I know are using it. (I’d say about half my regular contacts use WhatsApp).

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The new iPhone5 has arrived – what impact will it have on your network?

5 years after the first iPhone was introduced and re-defined (or arguably properly defined for the first time) our understanding of what a smartphone can actually do, comes the iPhone 5. And with Apple reporting over 2 million pre-orders for the new device within the first 24 hours of its debut, it is shaping up to be yet another record breaking product release for the World’s most valuable technology company. While the new iPhone is 18% thinner and 20% lighter than the iPhone 4 and boasts greater speed and performance than its predecessors, its impact on the mobile data network has yet to be fully grasped. Operators around the world will need to have their eye on a whole set of network performance metrics that go beyond the key consumer selling points hitting the headlines today. In particular, they will need to pay special attention to metrics like the following:

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Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google….Who’s next? Part 2

Multi-national Communication Service Provider’s (CSP’s) are learning much from their new competitors – the ‘Gang of Four’ – about tools and ideas to redefine business. These include a combination of – the creation of platforms, the building of ecosystems, embracing developers & providing developer tools, the economics of the long tail, leveraging the power of data & the cloud, fleet-of-foot innovation culture and so on.

But how do top-tier CSP’s even begin to adapt these lessons to their own setting when perceived disadvantages of being ‘behind the curve’ stand in their way?

A novel approach is put forward here to explore Gerschenkron’s take on answering this question. Five ‘perceived disadvantages’ are covered and to each a ‘Gang of Four’ lesson is applied to reveal a possible ‘behind the curve advantage’.

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Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google….Who’s next? Part 1

Phil Simon’s new book is entitled ‘The Age of Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have Redefined Business’.

Simon’s thesis is that this ‘Gang of Four’ went from creating single products, to creating ecosystems (referred to as partners, developers, users, customers and communities). And that these ecosystems are built upon a platform of integrated features.

Cutting through the buzz words let’s take Google as an example. In 1998 Google was ‘just’ a search engine. But as it added integrated features such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Voice, Google Play, Google +, Youtube and so on it became a platform – and this platform continues to evolve (for example, the recently launched Google Now app). Today Google is a $38bn (2011 annual return) business model.  ‘Gang of Four’ business models are ‘predicated on an ecosystem of collaboration, externally driven innovation, emerging technologies and rapid innovation’.

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There’s more to LTE than just a bigger pipe

As the pace of LTE deployments gather pace, it seems more and more operators are turning to network sharing in an effort to slash network costs.  Recent reports from Ovum suggest that over 50% of all future LTE deployments will involve some sort of network sharing, resulting in savings up to 25% of network costs.  This isn’t surprising when we weigh up the huge cost of investment to support LTE against a backdrop of constantly falling margins.  Eduardo Duato, CTO of Orange Spain recently came out and said that given the tough economic conditions facing the industry, operators have no choice but share the burden of building out LTE networks.

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Reducing Customer Experience to a Number

There is a lot of interest right now in getting better measures of customer experience.

A lot of the focus is on reducing customer experience to a single number, which has a well-defined and well-understood meaning, because experience is so subjective, and can be measured in many different ways. One of the main reasons for this is to have a measure of experience which can be compared both within and across operators or even across industries, so that you can see how you’re doing compared to your peers. The idea of a single number is attractive because of its simplicity, but reducing something as complex as experience to a single number is never easy, and not always possible.

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LTE: Learning from the mistakes of the past

Last month, I presented at the LTE Summit in Barcelona on how operators can weather the signalling storm brewing up across data networks today, caused by the growing use of ‘bursty’ smartphone apps. (For more on bursty apps please see our whitepaper located here.) The purpose of the presentation was to highlight the lessons operators could take from their current network problems and apply them to their LTE rollouts.

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Moving CEM beyond a buzzword

If we are to believe some recent news stories and reports, Customer Experience Management (CEM) is becoming more of a marketing buzzword with little substance and causing much confusion as to what it actually means. While it’s true that the term encompasses many facets and touches on different functions, I don’t think we can overestimate the potential value it can bring to network operators, particularly as they struggle to manage the growing complexities that exist in the new world of mobile broadband services.

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Mobile Insights – the key to a changing industry

Reading Strategy Analytics latest report that shows Samsung snatching Nokia’s mobile phone crown, you get a sense of how much can change in such a short space of time. While the reasons for Nokia’s downfall have been well documented and debated, it is clear that the growth in smartphone usage and the rise of Android and iOS have had a huge impact on the company’s financial woes.  Just compare Nokia’s latest results with that of Apple to get a grasp how this has played out with the latter reaping the success of a tightly integrated device and application platform.

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Big Data: Horizontal Technologies vs. Vertical Business Issues

At a lot of the recent events I’ve attended and in many recent conversations with operators, Big Data seems to be a very prevalent theme. Indeed we use our own Big Data technology in our own products. One thing that strikes me over and over though is that these conversations focus on the technology itself rather than the problems that it helps to solve. It seems that there is a lot to be learnt from data warehouse implementations in deciding on how to use Big Data.

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Mobile Network Operators: the missing piece of the “iOffice” pie

Everywhere I turn lately there is a tablet or someone weighing up the option to replace their laptop or netbook with the latest and greatest iPad. The phenomenal growth of tablets, especially iPads, is on the way to overtake laptops and netbooks as the device of choice for most applications. Tablets seem to provide a new way of cutting through technology barriers to get to what you want quickly and they are intuitive and fun to use.

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OTT Applications – Operators missing the party?

When I came home one evening with my new iPhone a couple of years ago, it disappeared almost immediately. It reappeared about an hour later with Angry Birds, Zombies and Facebook installed on it. I am more of a Trip Advisor, TripIt and Google Maps person myself. I have an app that tells me that! I had a Nokia phone and now I have a personal assistant toy that happens to make phone calls. This is becoming the norm for most folks nowadays too.

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Supporting half a billion new smartphone users

So it’s that time of year as we all get ready for another Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While for many of us, this annual “pilgrimage” brings up images of choking crowds, crunched schedules (and yes, sore feet!), it’s also a good time get a view of the latest trends and technologies that will shape our lives in the year ahead.

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