Is VoLTE development a life-saver or a cash-drainer for carriers?

VoLTE is a significant development, and while it might not be the complete industry game-changer some have touted it to be (it is still voice after all) it will have a huge impact on mobile operators and policy control. Launching reliable, high-quality VoLTE services require mobile operators to not only deploy the IP multimedia subsystem (IMS), but to also integrate it with a robust and flexible policy and charging rules function (PCRF). This article will evaluate exactly what operators will need from future PCRF systems while evaluating the strategies operators need to adopt to monetize VoLTE and ensure it’s not the cash-drainer it could become.

Originally LTE was seen as a complete IP cellular system just for carrying data, and operators would be able to carry voice either by reverting to 2G / 3G systems or by using VoIP in one form or another. However, when fragmentation and compatibility issues began to emerge, VoLTE was developed as a way of standardizing voice traffic on LTE for mobile operators.

While VoLTE has been talked about for a few years now, the technology is now finally starting to be deployed on mobile operator networks. Operators have touted VoLTE as a way to provide better and faster voice services than what they currently offer today and as a way to contend with OTT offerings. Until now, VoIP calling has been cannibalized by OTT vendors, and operators have been powerless to address the threat on their traditional cash-cow services like SMS and voice.

However, VoLTE is a way for operators to provide better voice services with faster call set up times.

The higher voice quality using HD voice improves the call experience, allowing people to better share feelings, do business and communicate information. HD voice transmits a broader spectrum of the human voice, so conversation is more natural and is felt as speaking to the other party in the same room. HD voice also helps people hear better in noisy environments.

VoLTE doesn’t just mean Voice over LTE.  It also means Video over LTE.  IMS/LTE includes support for IR 94 which describes how to make conversational video calls over LTE. Currently OTT vendors like Skype claims that 40% of their traffic is video calls. VoLTE brings tools for operator to compete with OTT vendors not only in voice services domain but also in video services domain. It provides better user experience with dedicated QoS for video services and can offer new value-added services for customers like video conference calling, video mail and video ring back tones, which can generate additional revenue for operators.

Operators can start to offer new services in relation to VoLTE, create differentiation and competition with OTT vendors like Skype and FaceTime. VoLTE has the additional benefit of being tightly integrated with the network so information like device, billing and location can be utilized effectively to provide a better service quality than OTT vendors.

While VoLTE will clearly bring a lot of benefits to mobile operators there are issues still surrounding delivery elements – especially around PCRF. In order to launch reliable, high-quality VoLTE mobile operators will need to severely overhaul their existing PCRF systems. Because of the extra complexity that VoLTE will add to the network such as complex network processing, increased signalling overheads operators need a robust, flexible PCRF system to manage it.

PCRF will also play a key role in service innovation and monetization opportunities, which will be vital in ensuring the success of VoLTE for mobile operators. VoLTE-ready PCRF solutions are designed to meet the extra demands and complexity posed by VoLTE, as well as enable additional monetization opportunities for mobile operators. Through VoLTE operators can begin to fully address the enterprise market, through the ability to supply quality voice and meeting services. Integrating policy and charging enables service providers to effectively manage and monetize advanced VoLTE and communications services as part of a unified service offering.

While the initial effort of over-hauling operators’ PCRF systems could put some off, the final pay off could be huge. With the right policy and control, mobile operators can offer their subscribers a huge range of extra value-added services, such as HD voice, video conference call, video mail or video RBT upsell. Real-time offers and promotions for VoLTE or the option for subscribers to up-sell themselves will create flexibility that consumers need from their operators.

Another long term advantage of VoLTE is better spectrum efficiency. VoLTE is considered to be up to 95 percent more Spectrum-efficient than legacy voice technologies, because it works in conjunction with the underlying IMS system to enable more simultaneous calls per MHz of spectrum. Consequently, operators could pack in more voice calls per MHz and free up more spectrum for data users. In addition, turning off 2G or even 3G networks and refarming spectrum for LTE growth, give operators the opportunity to take advantage of the greater spectral efficiencies of LTE as well as consolidate network operations.

Acquiring new spectrum is a significant investment for mobile operators – certainly much more than an investment in an IMS and VoLTE. A VoLTE deployment can reduce or postpone new spectrum purchases, easily justifying an investment for IMS and VoLTE.

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