It's New and It's VoLTE, But Will Consumers Notice?

When any new technology comes out of the lab and enters the real world, there is always the question of how it will meet consumer expectations. Mobile industry insiders have extolled the benefits of VoLTE, but will users embrace it?

There have been concerns as LTE networks and handsets have spread that there may be some drawbacks. One of them has centered around the battery life of smartphones running VoLTE and associated applications. Another has questioned whether users will really experience improved voice call quality, including the value-add for HD Voice.

Putting It Under the Microscope

Spirent has been looking at these questions while also developing solutions to issues. Jeff Atkins, marketing director in Spirent’s service experience unit, says the company saw some “very poor performance” in early-stage network deployments of LTE.

“But once the network has been optimized and the bugs ironed out, we’ve seen VoLTE exceeding other (VoIP) applications,” Atkins says. Spirent has seen much the same thing with smartphones, with those purpose-built for VoLTE clocking much better battery life.

“Battery life is always a concern (with handsets),” says analyst Chris Nicoll of Analysys Mason. “But I think less so in devices purpose-built for VoLTE, meaning that a vocoder for voice to packet is included in the DSP (digital signal processor) and not running on the device’s main processor. This should mean that battery life should not be impacted and may actually improve if a dual-radio setup for CSFB (circuit-switched fallback) is not required.”

Spirent’s handset tests look at a variety of factors affecting performance, including everything from the number of cores to the screen size. Power consumption has skyrocketed with the advent of smartphones, Atkins says.

“The consensus is that batteries won’t get much larger,” he says. “And there aren’t many signs that power needs will go down with browsing, talking and video using a lot more power than traditional apps. We see the industry looking more and more at improving power efficiency, including the mobile OS, antennas, RF and baseband components and more.”

Tests of commercial LTE smartphones done by Spirent, Signals Research Group and ETS-Lindgren showed that poorly-performing smartphones could significantly degrade the mobile user experience as well as make inefficient use of network resources.

Atkins says Spirent is testing every VoLTE device that some carriers launch and its tests show that the best-performing devices use as much as 60 percent less power, which can vary by how the handset is used. Spirent has designed tests which can replicate real-world user activity, he says.

VoLTE and HD Voice Quality 

Will consumers see a difference in voice call quality with VoLTE?

There might not be a big difference between a 3G HD voice call and VoLTE, says analyst Nicoll, but there will be a noticeable improvement, especially compared to non-HD calls. “Which also means audio streaming will sound richer, fuller and more satisfying,” he adds. “But the big immediate benefit for LTE users is moving to HD Voice.”

HD voice over either 3G or VoLTE provide a richer voice experience because HD suppresses the background noise and makes the call clearer, according to Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics. Entner cautions that handsets will need to be both VoLTE and HD voice ready for the best experience.

Again, the best experience also is enabled by fine-tuning the handsets with the networks. That’s what Spirent is doing with its Fit4Launch service by going into a carrier market and measuring the live network with handsets.

At one time, mobile operators literally drove the streets making phone calls to test call quality. With LTE, they’ve turned to Spirent’s solutions to give them scientific measurements to measure quality. That includes comparing voice calls over a circuit-switched network with calls using VoLTE to make sure the latter is at least as good. Spirent measures how long it takes to set up a call, speech quality, ability to maintain a call, and what kind of delay there might be, Atkins says.

“What we’ve done is make it a science,” he says, “with a set of metrics that matter to users. We’re measuring both the network and the handsets, transcending the technology to measure quality.”
At least one VoLTE user is convinced of the technology’s benefits. That’s Nicola Palmer, chief network officer for Verizon Wireless, who of course has been running her own personal tests, something she's discussed in an online interview on Verizon's website.

“I can tell you that I personally have made VoLTE calls on our commercial network and the quality really is quite remarkable,” she says.

For a better understanding of VoLTE, please download our eBook, VoLTE and RCS – Getting it Right. Operators are deploying VoLTE and RCS but to be really successful, they must enable a great user experience. Find out how call quality, interoperability, voice handovers to Wi-Fi and VoLTE roaming will impact the customer experience, and how developers can embed innovative applications directly into devices.

Read more about the early testing and deployment of VoLTE in our free eBook VoLTE Testing Explained.


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