Vodafone Australia will complete its roll-out of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) to its entire 4G network footprint by the end of 2016, bringing enhanced call quality and setup times to all 4G customers.
Not everyone is fascinated by network technology, and fewer probably understand it in any great level of detail. We certainly don’t profess to be experts ourselves, but we know enough to know VoLTE (Voice over LTE) is kind of cool. It’s the technology few people are going to know anything about; Apple devices mask this name almost completely, offering users the option to “Use 4G to make voice calls” … and that’s basically what VoLTE is.
We caught up with Vodafone Australia’s Chief Technology Officer Benoit Hanssen to find out more about this new technology, and to discuss where Vodafone is up to with its implementation. We asked first how Vodafone’s roll-out was progressing.
Benoit tells us that VoLTE actually launched on the Vodafone network in December 2015:
“Since then, we have rolled out the feature in metropolitan areas and we have gradually certified more devices. By the end of 2016, we will offer VoLTE on the entire Vodafone 4G network footprint for customers on RED plans.”
“At this stage, we have had positive feedback from customers about VoLTE which offers a number of benefits, including better sound quality, shorter call connection times and the ability to use 4G data while making or receiving a call.”
In terms of device support, it seems that a good many devices are already enabled for VoLTE, and many more are being enabled for access to VoLTE features in coming weeks. As it stands, Benoit has confirmed that many of the popular smartphones, including the latest iPhone and Samsung devices, are currently enabled at a software level. In general, VoLTE availability on devices is dependent on manufacturer timelines for VoLTE software support.
Enabled devices at this stage include:
- Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge +
- Samsung Galaxy Note 5
- Sony Xperia Z3
- Sony Xperia Z5
- Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge,
- Apple iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, and iPhone SE,
- Samsung Galaxy S7
- HTC 10
Further phones will have access in coming weeks, including some older handsets from Samsung and HTC.
We understood that VoLTE was available in certain areas of Vodafone’s 4G network; Benoit confirmed that VoLTE is enabled on the 4G network in metro areas including Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Melbourne, Geelong, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Hobart.
As a bit of an exclusive, Benoit has also told Ausdroid that the entire Vodafone 4G network footprint will be enabled by the end of 2016.
For those not familiar with how VoLTE works, we asked Benoit to give us a bit of a simple explanation, which goes a bit like this:
“For VoLTE calls, the voice traffic from the handset is carried using IP technology over the 4G data network, alongside other data services. This is in contrast to 2G/3G where the call is switched using a channel that is specifically for voice. VoLTE uses dedicated 4G packet switched data bearers to carry voice traffic, which have higher Quality of Service (QoS) settings compared to bearers used for ordinary data, ensuring that voice traffic can be carried reliably on the network”, he said.
“Previously, a device on 4G would ‘fall back’ to the 2G/3G network to make and receive calls, which significantly had longer call setup times.”
Obviously there’s benefits for the customer here; faster setup times are an obvious benefit, with call-setup taking one to two seconds instead of up to ten seconds. Users can also make and receive calls while continuing to use 4G on their smartphone. Users may also notice that the voice quality is clearer, especially in areas where coverage is not as strong and calls on 3G would have been less reliable.
There are benefits for Vodafone in this as well. Benoit says:
“From a network point of view, benefits include a more efficient use of radio spectrum resources and reduced signalling load due to fewer transitions between 4G and the radio access network.”
As with any new technology, occasional teething problems may occur, but Vodafone says they’ve not come across anything significant during testing; the roll-out is continuing, after all, and will be complete within a few weeks. On the whole, Benoit tells us that he expects most customers to have an enhanced experience, and indeed, most users probably won’t even know that their calls are being handled any differently — the only way they would know is that during a call, their phone would display a 4G symbol instead of 3G. The rest is transparent.
In terms of what’s coming next, Vodafone is already thinking about the transition to 5G in the next few years, probably some time around 2020. In the meantime, we understand Vodafone is rolling out fibre to most of its radio sites to ensure there’s capacity for the future. Benoit reminds us that 5G is still a way away, and there’s a lot of life left in 4G with continued advancements being made, and VoLTE is just one of them.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Vodafone completing its VoLTE roll-out by the end of May 2016. Vodafone’s advice was incorrect; the roll-out will be completed by the end of 2016.