ERICSSON BUSINESS INNOVATION FORUM, TOKYO: Ericsson CTO Ulf Ewaldsson (pictured) touted a “very important” win at Japanese operator SoftBank but was less forthcoming on reports the Swedish network giant has lost out on supplying kit for Sprint’s new high-profile ‘Spark’ service.
The SoftBank deal sees Ericsson supply Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) kit for Japan’s third-largest operator. The deal is significant as it gives the nascent VoLTE market a boost after a slower-than-expected start. It also strengthens Ericsson’s standing in a country that can be tough for western vendors to dominate (Ericsson is an existing core and radio network supplier to SoftBank).
VoLTE services have so far only been commercially launched by a handful of operators, including T-Mobile’s MetroPCS in the US and South Korean operators SKT, KT and LG Uplus. Rather than use the data-centric, all-IP nature of LTE networks to transmit voice services, most operators are still falling back onto the older 3G network when an LTE user makes a voice call (using a process called Circuit Switched Fallback, CSFB).
Ericsson’s Ewaldsson believes the vast majority of global operators will eventually offer VoLTE services, but admits the technology has not been deployed as fast as predicted. “They will all move, it’s just going to take time,” he told Mobile World Live, noting that the delay is largely due to the fact that CSFB technology is “good enough” to offer a consistent user experience at present.
As LTE networks become more widespread, VoLTE will become the default option for providing voice services, claims Ewaldsson. “You can’t launch a very good VoLTE service if you have spotty LTE coverage. When we work with operators on VoLTE we ask them: Is your [LTE] coverage good enough to do it? That’s our key question to them.”
Meanwhile Ewaldsson didn’t refute reports suggesting Ericsson is not part of Sprint’s new high-profile ‘Spark’ LTE service, which the US number three operator aims to launch in the top 100 markets during the next three years (and 5 initial markets at launch this week) with speeds capable of reaching 50-60 Mb/s and perhaps faster. The service will work via the combination of its 800 MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5 GHz LTE spectrum.
Sprint said the network vendors that will roll out Spark are Alcatel-Lucent, Samsung and Nokia Solutions and Networks. Noticeably absent from the list is Ericsson, which is Sprint’s managed services vendor for its entire network and also a key vendor for its ongoing Network Vision network upgrade program.
“Sprint is obviously a big customer with us. I don’t want to make any specific comment other than to say we will continue to bid on future contracts with them,” said Ewaldsson.