This post is by Marc Bensadoun, CEO of Newfield Wireless
“Mobile comms consultancy Northstream reckons European telcos are missing out on over €2 billion in potential profits that could come from effectively partnering with Internet players generally referred to as OTTs,” reported Telecoms.com recently.
Over-the-top (OTT) providers are a big and painful thorn in the side of telcos around the world. Couple this with the growth of 4G and dramatically increased data speeds, and we see how fast the competitive landscape is changing. Now, with Voice over LTE (VoLTE), mobile operators have the power to change it and vault over the competition.
VoLTE gives operators a chance to fight back by providing a native product with the promise of a significantly better user experience. In the process it can solve a lot of operators’ OTT-related challenges. An all-IP technology combines LTE with IMS to efficiently deliver a full suite of services such as IM, video chat, HD voice, presence, and group chat — all opportunities for carriers to differentiate themselves from OTT providers.
In North America, for example, where unlimited voice is the norm, there isn’t as much incentive for subscribers to use OTT voice except for when dialing or traveling internationally. Data or messaging OTT solutions are a different story. However, VoLTE is far from straightforward to deploy and presents operators with a new set of obstacles that are unlike anything they’ve experienced before, especially when it comes to optimising the Radio Access Network (RAN).
Earlier in 2014, several operators delayed their commercial VoLTE launches, citing RAN issues as the cause. The bigger challenge is that VoLTE, and LTE in general, has irreversibly changed subscriber access to mobile services. Engineers that have spent decades perfecting the RAN for traditional voice communications are now faced with the rise of 4G smartphones, all-IP applications and new ways for devices to interact with the core network, which all take time to deploy and test. Given the current transformed network environment, it’s no surprise OTT players have encroached so heavily on voice and messaging revenues – operators haven’t yet been able to fight back, and archaic network testing process is to blame.
With the size and multi-dimensions of today’s mobile networks, legacy solutions like drive testing are incomplete, expensive and time consuming, particularly for deploying products and introducing new devices. New big data-based tools make it simpler and more cost effective to roll out new services. When operators see network and subscriber-level data before a major technology upgrade, they establish a baseline. Big data solutions make this possible. Then, operators can rely on ongoing analytics to see the real-time impact of changes they make to the network, to identify and resolve performance issues as soon as they occur. This is vital for a successful VoLTE launch.
VoLTE deployments are set to double in the next 12 months, according to a September report published by the GSA. The report also indicates engineers are resolving the complexities of managing LTE deployments and are in a position to more effectively compete with OTT players. They need to be. Drive testing alone simply won’t work with VoLTE.
For operators launching VoLTE, subscribers will only be happy if the service is seamless, works well and doesn’t cost them more. Operators need to provide that while focusing on their additional priorities, such as rapid and seamless launch, low operational costs and minimized complexity and challenges associated with deployment. This is essential at launch and on an ongoing basis, as OTT services cannot compete with VoLTE when networks become heavily loaded.
VoLTE is still a young concept, but can be a vital competitive asset. And even though it’s not getting as much attention as bendgate, all new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6-Plus devices come VoLTE-enabled.
It’s only a matter of time before more devices launch with VoLTE, so the time to act is now. Is your network ready for VoLTE?
About the author: Marc Bensadoun is founder and CEO of Newfield Wireless, a Tektronix Communications company and leader in RAN geoanalytics. For more information, please visit www.newfieldwireless.com.