What Is the Difference Between LTE and VOLTE?



Indian telecom players are battling tooth and nail to retain their competitive position in the market and VoLTE (Voice over Long Term Evolution) is their new mantra. It promises faster, better and wider data connectivity. India is witnessing a VoLTE revolution thanks to the competition stirred up by Reliance Jio.

What is it?
VoLTE is a technology update to the LTE protocol used by mobile phone networks. Under LTE, the infrastructure of telecom players only allows transmission of data while voice calls are routed to their older 2G or 3G networks. This is why, under LTE, you cannot access your 4G data services while on a call. This leads to problems such as slow internet speeds and poor voice clarity.

VoLTE allows voice calls to be ‘packaged’ and carried through LTE networks. This would mean 4G data accessibility even during calls. VoLTE is an Internet Protocol Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) specification which enables a variety of services to operate seamlessly on the network rather than having to switch to different applications for voice or video. In India, mobile phones and telecom operators have adapted to LTE networks, faster than to 3G and are preparing to launch VoLTE services. But not all players may be able to immediately implement this mainly due to costs and complexity in infrastructure.

Why is it important?
If VoLTE becomes a reality, it could enable call quality that is much superior to the previous networks. Apart from high definition voice quality, it can also provide improved coverage. Your network would pick up 2G or 3G signals when VoLTE is unavailable, ensuring you are always connected with both voice and data. You may also be able to place video calls directly from your number which may render applications such as Skype or Viber redundant. Since VoLTE counts voice calls as data usage, your billing will be in terms of data consumption rather than minutes of usage. VoLTE can also extend or save your battery life. In the present scenario, your network has to switch from 4G to 3G every time you place a call. This constant switching and searching for a network takes a toll on your mobile battery. On the downside, this service might be limited to mobile phones that are equipped with software to allow VoLTE function. There might be call drops in the initial stages of implementation.

In India, Jio was the first player to offer VoLTE services, followed by Airtel, which has recently launched its VoLTE services in Mumbai. Others are likely to roll out VoLTE services soon. However, it would take few years before the full benefits of VoLTE are reflected, as India is in the nascent stages of VoLTE penetration and incumbents are still dependent on revenue from voice. If you’re just rejoicing at the free voice calls, be aware that VoLTE could put an end to this trend as operators may have to tweak their pricing plans accordingly.

Why should I care?

2G was once considered a fast network, but as our data usage gallops, leap-frogging to 4G can fetch us faster connectivity as well as a wider menu of services. Once on VoLTE, you could receive a new set Rich Communication Services (RCS) which include video calling, file transfer, real time language translation and voice mail services. Although you cannot make calls when your data plan is turned off, some telecom players may let you fall back on 3G  services to make calls. The bottomline VoLTE may be superfast, but whether it allows you to make a voice call in a fast moving train or in the subway still remains to be seen.

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