Feature Article

August 09, 2012

Dualing VoLTE Firsts Between South Korea, U.S. - HD Voice Wins

SK Telecom officially launched its Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service on August 8, billing handset supply Samsung's Galaxy III S LTE as the first VoLTE-enabled phone. Yet today, there's a statement from MetroPCS that claims it is the world's first company to launch VoLTE service and claiming the LG Connect 4G Android smartphone is "the world's first VoLTE-capable handset." Is there a right answer here?

I've got a headache before me.

Clearly, SK Telecom won the PR battle, pre-briefing media sources on its August 8 launch of VoLTE service and VoLTE-ready Samsung Galaxy III S sales. A quick look at Twitter and search engines reveals a flurry of activity around SK Telecom's announcement since the company decided to highlight HD voice as a basic and innovative feature of its rollout. MetroPCS's release makes no mention of HD voice -- perhaps not surprising, since Sprint has dominated the discussion of HD voice service in the U.S. and continues to ignore media inquiries on the subject (well, they're not e-mailing me back, at any rate).

Various media reports give MetroPCS the edge in officially announcing its VoLTE launch a couple of hours ahead of SK Telecom. MetroPCS definitely has the first U.S. rollout of production VoLTE service under its belt by a wide margin since Verizon is expected to offer only VoLTE in a limited number of service areas by the end of the year. And presumably MetroPCS could also claim the first HD voice deployment in the United States, since VoLTE should support the AMR-WB codec by default.

MetroPCS says it has LTE coverage extending out to about 90 percent of its CDMA market and is working hard to have full coverage, since it wants to refarm/rework its RF spectrum to get more customers on.

But what about the first VoLTE-capable handset? There are many "VoLTE-capable" handsets already floating around in the Android world, simply awaiting a firmware upgrade or better network support. The Sprint HTC EVO 4G LTE phone, for example, is more than capable of supporting VoLTE from a hardware and software perspective, but Sprint's LTE network deployment needs to catch up with the capabilities of the phone -- not something I'd ever thought about before. Verizon Wireless demoed VoLTE on a couple of different Android phones over a year and a half ago, so by now there are many "capable" VoLTE handsets simply awaiting a software/firmware upgrade.

It puts us to LG and Samsung squabbling over who sold the first customer-ready VoLTE-enabled smartphone. If we go by press release dates and claims, it appears MetroPCS sold the first customer-ready VoLTE enabled phone in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area a couple of hours ahead of South Korea. But then we could get into an extended discussion on reported time stamps press releases and the International Date Line which would result in more gnashing of teeth.

Regardless of who can claim first, there are now at least two operational VoLTE networks and at least two to three customer-ready VoLTE-enabled smartphones turned up in different parts of the world. And the U.S. has one of the two operational VoLTE networks now, with more to join in 2013.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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