VoLTE in Australia – Tech That’ll Really Change Your Phone Calls

VOLTE is Voice Over LTE – it will improve the quality of your phone calls.

VOLTE is Voice Over LTE – it will improve the quality of your phone calls.

VoLTE Means Voice Over LTE (4G ) Here’s What You Need To Know:

  • VoLTE is existing but nascent technology.
  • It sounds technical and it kind of is.
  • The good news is that you don’t need to worry about it or learn anything new in order to use it.
  • It’s just going to improve the quality of the phone calls you make.
  • The quality of sound over a VoLTE call will be fuller and clearer than you’re used to.
  • There are some other benefits too which we list below.
  • The phone companies started VoLTE trials as long as a year ago.
  • However, we believe 2016 is going to be the year of LTE and expect some big, public announcements from Vodafone soon.

There are more details in the article below.

 

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With Kogan, you’ll get

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What is VoLTE ?

VoLTE stands for Voice over LTE. You know what a voice is. LTE is another name for 4G technology. In simple terms, 4G is a superfast data network.

To this point, the technologies ( which you’ve probably heard of ) used to transmit your voice over an Australian telco network are standard GSM the Global System for Mobile Telecommunications calls. When you’ve make a voice call on a 4G phone now, you may have noticed your phone’s connection has moved from a 4G data network connection to the 3G network. As of now, mobile data is sent over the 4G networks. Voice traffic still goes over the 2G and 3G GSM networks. Calling drops the 4G connection, picks up a 3G connection and communicates the signal using the GSM standards.

VoLTE changes that. Instead of sending your voice over the ‘old’ channel, it’s transmitted over the 4G data network. Your voice is just turned in to data by your phone and transmitted exactly the same way as data is sent over the internet. The adjustment to using VoLTE to route calls involves using a protocol called SIP. (Session Initiated protocol)

If you’ve used Skype or Viber, you’ve used very similar technology

To get a rough idea of how this works, think of service providers such as Skype or Viber. If you have used their services, you will have an pretty good mental model of how VoLTE call technology works. Both use SIP to connect the calls.

Who can use VoLTE ?

Firstly to make a VoLTE call, you will require an up to date smartphone which supports ( has softare which works on ) the VoLTE protocol. The latest mobile phones available from Apple such as the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 6 are suitable, as are the ones on offer from Samsung such as the Galaxy Note 4, or their Galaxy Edge series.

More phones are getting the software upgrade they need to be VoLTE enabled all the time. This is something the manufacturers need to do and which the phone companies can’t help with. Over time, new devices will be released with VoLTE and the software will be commonplace.

At this stage, to be able to activate VoLTE on your smartphone you need to have a postpaid mobile phone plan with a supporting network.

The phone companies started by providing VoLTE to the postpaid proportion of their customer base. The thinking was probably that these customers were more likely to have one of the phones required. It also provides a subset of all customers in case the trials go wrong. Should that happen, not everyone will be affected and the social media frenzy is that little bit smaller !

VoLTE is still in the early stages of rollouts ( although we understand Vodafone is further ahead than any others. ) Once you are connected to a supporting network and using an enabled smartphone, you can enjoy some benefits over regular call technology. Let’s take a look at those.

What are the benefits of using VoLTE?

VoLTE provides a number of benefits. The nature of the technology is that positively affects one of the primary elements of your phone – voice transmission. The improvements to call quality and connection speed are material. VoLTE means you can enjoy an uninterrupted and smooth user experience along with a better quality of voice transmission.

Specifically, VoLTE will give you :

  • Much better call quality :
    The first and major benefit of VoLTE calls in comparison to regular calls is the quality of the voice transmission. Since the current telco networks are what we’re all used to, we’ve never hoped for anything better. However, on VoLTE, calls are of a much higher audio quality. There is just a lot more data bandwidth available on a 4G call than a 3G call – somewhere between 3 and 6 times as much data. That means that the entire spectrum of the human voice ( between 20 Hz an 20,000 Hz ) can be sent. Having a VoLTE call is noticeably clearer than what you’re used to. Background noise is reduced. It sounds like you’re talking to someone in the same room. Recent studies have demonstrated a higher satisfaction of mobile phone call experiences when compared to making calls using the older CDMA and GSM network technologies.
  • A quicker connection :
    The VoLTE connection improvement allows for lower call connection latency. To you and me, that means VoLTE will cut the time from you hitting the icon of the green phone to your targets phone ringing. Early tests suggest that VoLTE call connection will be twice as fast as calls are currently connected. Times measured to connect a call have been cut from 7 or 8 seconds down to 3 or 4 seconds.
  • New services :
    VoLTE can be used for things other than sending and receiving mobile phone calls. With communication being conducted over wireless data based and internet protocols, users of the VoLTE networks are also able to take advantage of services such as video calling, file transfers, language translations and instant messaging. Many of these are done at the moment using point apps. You can use familiar names such as FaceTime which is available to iPhone users and Skype for video calling. WhatsApp is widely used on both the iPhone and Android platforms for messaging. VoLTE is the first step to integrating many of these communication methodologies directly in to your phone. You will no longer need the apps.
  • Multi-tasking :
    Using VoLTE, you’ll be able to browse the internet while you’re on a call to look up a restaurant or meeting place. You’ll be able to tether your laptop to your phone and still receive voice calls. VoLTE will allow people to conference call with up to 5 phone users. Importantly, the data speeds you get with your phone will not change when you’re doing all of these things.

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VoLTE and IPv6

As VoLTE is being developed and rolled out for customers of the major phone companies, a wider problem is evolving across the internet – we have run out of IPv4 addresses. Any phone wishing to make a VoIP call required an IP – Internet Protocol – address. Your IP address is a series of numbers which uniquely identified your particular connection on the internet. In reality, VoLTE requires two IP addresses per handset, which effectively doubles the speed at which we approach the limit of the problem of IP address exhaustion.

VoLTE Downsides

Keep these in mind when you’re thinking about VoLTE.

  • You’ll still pay voice rates for voice calls :
    Charging for your VoLTE calls will be the same as it ever was. The time you talk for will come out of the minutes ( or dollar value ) you’re allocated in your plan. Data is still a separate thing from a charging point of view. In some way, this is all nonsense anyway. First of all, voice calls have been digitized for years. The best way to look at it is to remember nothing has changed. Voice calls come out of your voice bundle. Data charges come out of your data bundle.
  • You need a very new phone :
    Unfortunately, at the moment, there is slight downside to the widespread implementation of VoLTE. To take advantage of this new technology you must have access to a smartphone which can support VoLTE calls. This means you will need to own one of the latest phones from either Samsung or Sony or Apple. Unfortunately, not everyone does. Some phones will need a manufacturer software update to work with VoLTE.

Telstra VoLTE services

Telstra was the first of the three major networks in Australia to trial and implement the VoLTE service. Telstra also allows subscribers to make voice calls, between a VoLTE device and a Telstra NBN service. The telco is currently enabling the new 4G VoLTE for their mobile postpaid customers, providing they have a supported smartphone.

Telstra is also looking at rolling out a number of additional services for their existing subscribers. Telstra customers are set to include video calling over LTE. They will also be introducing the ability to seamlessly change between VoLTE and WiFi calling.

Vodafone introduces VoLTE to customers

Voda commenced the roll-out of VoLTE nationwide on their network, in December 2015. They initially offered the service to users on postpaid phones under contract. Now, just like Telstra, Vodafone has completed trials of VoLTE technology and has begun to configure the technology on its network.

Vodafone has been quoted as saying, “Voice over LTE is really IP connectivity which is much more flexible than traditional switching, which is what telephones have been doing for many, many years.”

As with other networks, subscribers will need to be using a compatible Samsung, iPhone or Sony device to get the benefits of VoIP. Vodafone have also been looking into offering video calls over VoLTE service further down the line. Coverage for VoLTE in Australian cities is world class. Vodafone has also significantly upgraded it’s 4G network.  As the roll-outs continue, this will no doubt change and coverage will expand quickly.

Whats the difference between HD voice and VoLTE

From a customer experience point of view, there’s not a great deal of difference between the two technologies of HD voice and LTE. HD Voice or High Definition voice uses the 3G data network to pass the users voice to another phone.VoLTE as you will be sick of us saying by now in this article, uses the 4G network. The higher bandwidth of the 4G network improves the quality further. HD voice is a halfway house between GSM and VoLTE.

Optus have also been playing with HD Voice technology. If you live in one of Australia’s metro areas, and have a compatible phone, you may even have used it. Optus has announced that progress of the roll-out so far is in the “well advanced” stages.

Where is VoLTE in Australia headed in the next five years?

For Aussies keeping their eyes on industry updates for news on VoLTE, a lot has been going on recently. Telstra and Vodafone Australia are both offering subscribers access to VoLTE, over their respective 4G networks. Optus lagged behind the pack but finally conducted some testing in early 2016.

Over the next 5 years, we can expect VoLTE to become the standard. Integrating multimedia services like video calling, conference calling.

One issue facing the phone companies now ‘network interoperability’. Just because you can make a VoLTE call from one phone on the Vodafone network to another phone on the Vodafone network, doesn’t mean you can call a VoLTE phone on the Telstra network from the same device. Getting VoLTE working within their networks is relatively easy. When that’s sorted, the phone companies will work together ( as they did, at one time, you might remember, for SMS ) to connect calls between their networks. In 5 years from now, we will take it for granted.

We can also expect video calling. And other fringe technology like conference calling which might be used occasionally to be implemented. Whether they’re used remains to be seen.

 

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What is IPv6, and why do we need it for VoLTE calls?

Until now, internet users have been assigned IPv4 addresses to function online. IPv4 was a collection of 4 numbers, each of which could be anything from 0 to 255. For example, an IPv4 address may have been 15.125.0.255. If you’ve had any experience at all with a home computer, at some stage, you’ve probably come across similar numbers, in a similar sequence, to those. IPv4 had a huge but finite number of addresses available – 256 x 256 x 256 x 256.

When the first designed the internet, of course, they figured that this huge number of connections would be quite enough to keep us happy until the end of time. Unfortunately, an ever increasing desire to connect things to the internet, including handsets for VoLTE calls means that large number of connections, has nearly run out. To combat this problem, there have been a number of work-around solutions to keep things running until a permanent fix is found.

That permanent solution is IPv6 – the 6th version of the Internet Protocol neomenclature which was specifically designed as a replacement for IPv4. IPv6 offers 256 x 256 more options, presenting a truly massive number of new addresses available. However, many online systems still need IPv4 to function, and IPv6 is not transferable without a software patch to the servers which access and forward traffic on the internet.

Many existing systems need IPv4 to function. Future systems will be designed for IPv6. Until content providers all operate using IPv6, devices will need to be able to access both and luckily, the tech heads have come up with some clever solutions to ‘hide’ iPv6 addresses from systems that wouldn’t understand them.

Working Around IPv4 shortages

Because IPv4 addresses are unable to be assigned to each unique user due to shortages, Network Address Translation or NAT is often used. Private networks assign each device an address in a private range, which can then talk to other devices within that network using their private IP address. It is on these servers that the clever workarounds are employed.
However, when the devices are required to access information external to a local (for example, a company’s) network, they are all routed through a firewall that can read the devices private IP. The workaround then uses a single public IP to access the information, relaying it back to the device. That means a single public IP address can be used for hundreds or even thousands of users on the private network. Clever, hey?

The problem is that functions like VoLTE cannot use NAT because each user is required to be personally identifiable for direct communication. It’s no good knowing that Hewlett-Packard called you, for example, you need to know which person at Hewlett-Packard called you so you can give them a ring back. As a result VoLTE solutions struggle to benefit from the workaround which serves the rest of the world in its transition to VoLTE.

Using NAT has other drawbacks, too. It means that content providers are unable to see who is accessing their website, and limits their ability to adapt to individual users. In summary, the NAT workarounds used to sort out these IPv6 issues are a temporary fix, and they’re no good for VoLTE.

What does this mean for VoLTE?

The issue has been addressed using ‘dual-stack capability’.

A dual-stack phone is one that can access either IPv4 or IPv6 content. New VoLTE compatible devices are designed to operate in dual stack mode. They’re programmed to prefer IPv6 wherever possible. That leaves a bit longer for phoes which are only able to work with the ‘old’ (it’s really the current) protocol, IPv4. Eventually, IPv4 compatibility will become unnecessary, but until that time, dual stack capability allows networks to move forward with their VoLTE rollouts.

Where to from here?

Network operators have to contend with a portion of their customers having handsets which are only IPv4 compatible, some using handsets which are only IPv6 compatible and some which use dual stack capability.
Since 2016, Telstra have made IPv6 available for its customers. They have created the network gibbins (those servers running the workarounds) necessary to support IPv4, and have launched IPv6 to customers who have devices with dual stack technology. The next step is to get their network ready for IPv6 only, and then launch devices that only connect via IPv6 addresses.

For now, millions of Telstra customers are using single stack IPv6 addresses for VoLTE, allowing VoLTE to progress but avoiding the need for IPv4 addresses.
As long as IPv4 is commonly used, these work-around solutions will be necessary. However, as VoLTE and IPv6 become more common, these innovations will improve our user experience and help pave the way for the future of telecommunications.

Concluding the VoLTE discussion in Australia

The VoLTE roll-out in Australia, is still a work in progress. At the moment, you’ll need to be on a postpaid plan and usually a consumer to use it. You’ll also need a newer, more expensive phone.

Australian VoLTE technology is still in it’s infancy. Make no mistake, rolling VoLTE out over a network is a big deal. Some have even suggested that VoLTE trials are the reason the Telstra Network has had the problems it’s had with 3 different significant national outages having occurred in the last few months.

But the experience of making voice calls is massively improved by the capability. Voice is such a fundamental feature that improving the performance of the feature materially improves how you feel about your phone company.

For the telcos, this is their core business. It’s one less network to support – there is no need for the voice network over the long term. And it’s an improvement in customer satisfaction. For customers, it’s a basic feature that now works much better.

One interesting aspect is Vodafone’s approach to implementing VoLTE. People often forget Vodafone’s global reach. Unlike Telstra, Vodafone have staff and procedure which are developed in one country and then rolled out worldwide. Implementing VoLTE down here is the same as implementing VoLTE in the other 30 countries in which Vodafone is represented. Perhaps this is why they’ve made VoLTE look so easy. Vodafone are insanely clever. Their recent 4G announcements – in which they revealed that they now cover more of the country with 4G – mean VoLTE will be a major differentiator for them if, as we expect, they can get the product to market before the other telcos.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.