EE has announced plans to launch VoLTE (Voice over LTE) – although not commercially until early 2015 – with a VoWiFi service to debut before the end of this year, both initiatives intended to show the operator still cares about voice.
Neither move will be directly revenue generative for EE although both promise improvements in quality-of-service over traditional circuit-switched calls. For instance, EE said VoLTE reduces call set-up times.
Trials started this week for VoLTE internally with 50 engineers, and will expand to 500 users by the end of the process.
Tom Bennett, EE’s director of network services and devices, said the launch date for VoLTE (early 2015) reflected the amount of testing necessary to get the service in the right shape for a commercial launch. “It’s the most complex thing I have ever worked on,” he said.
However most 4G devices will not be able to access the service at launch, although some devices will be upgraded via a firmware update to use VoLTE.
Meanwhile the aim of VoWiFi is to improve in-building coverage. Calls will be automatically routed via WiFi, for instance in a user’s home or office, where there is an absence of cellular coverage.
Asked directly whether VoWiFi was needed because of shortcomings with EE’s network, Bennett said: “Yes there are places where we do not currently penetrate, I won’t hide that.”
However he argued statistics proved EE actually offers the best network in the UK.
EE went for VoWiFi first because it has immediate benefits for customers, while VoLTE requires more testing, he said.
Both services are enabled via an IMS capability in EE’s network.
The operator will not launch a big marketing campaign for either service, although it will educate users about any benefits (making calls where previously they could not).
Users care about voice, said EE – it is still the largest source of complaint from the customer base regarding the network, so the operator expends energy and money on improving coverage and quality of service despite its positioning as a 4G operator.
The UK’s largest operator – and 4G market leader – said it will invest £275 million in voice over 2G, 3G and 4G networks in 2014. The figure remained unchanged from last year.
This investment is also spent on other targets for voice services – such as pushing the dropped call rate below 0.5 per cent. It is currently about 0.6 per cent.
In addition, South Korea’s three major network operators, and Metro PCS (now part of T-Mobile US), were first onto VoLTE back in August 2012, and are hence more advanced than their peers.