Voice over LTE (VoLTE) impacts test & measurement market

-June 04, 2013

Olga Shapiro, of Frost & Sullivan, reflects on how testing during the research and development phase of VoLTE has become absolutely critical for successful technology deployment and ensuring positive quality of user experience (QoE)

The year 2012 was important for LTE deployments, as it symbolized the technology becoming a wireless technology of choice for global wireless operators. Currently, there are more than 140 commercial networks launched in more than 65 countries globally. In addition, more than 95 LTE networks were launched in 2012 alone. The number of LTE devices increased almost two fold from 269 in January 2012 to 560 devices produced by 83 suppliers by November 2012.

From a test and measurement perspective, the emergence of this highly technical and complex technology creates a large number of opportunities for vendors. The global LTE test equipment market generated $945.8 million in revenues and is expected to exceed a $2.8 billion mark in 2018 growing with a compound annual growth rate of 20.7 percent from 2011 to 2018, according to Frost & Sullivan.

As the number of LTE-enabled mobile devices is multiplying, the industry is expecting new entrants into the LTE device market, including Amazon, for example, among others in 2013. As LTE networks are being rolled out globally, the demand for LTE devices is expected to come from USA, United Kingdom, Japan and emerging countries such as Russia, Brazil, China and South Korea.

Additionally, mobile data consumption on smartphones and tablets are driving the demand for operators to expand their LTE networks, as well as their LTE device portfolios.

Ensuring positive quality of user experience, voice over LTE (VoLTE), Wi-Fi, multiple input multiple output (MIMO) antenna technology, cellular offload and indoor location capabilities are among the most current trends in the LTE device market.

VoLTE and Testing
LTE technology brings about a major industry shift to a packet-based data network. Because of that, service providers (SPs) will deliver voice over a packet-based network that is known as VoLTE.

Typically, Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems (UMTS) and High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) solutions support voice calls in their core and radio network. However, in the case of LTE, voice calling depends on the emerging IP multimedia system (IMS) solutions, and the progress regarding IMS to supplement LTE with voice capacity is slow. The lack of standards for IMS and, incidentally, mobile VoIP, has driven service providers to identify the appropriate voice calling techniques to embed into their LTE networks.

The telecommunications industry is currently working on refining VoLTE technology throughout the entire LTE ecosystem beginning from the chipsets all the way through the network. Testing during the research and development phase of VoLTE becomes absolutely critical for successful technology deployment and ensuring positive quality of user experience (QoE).

Some of the benefits of VoLTE are:
  • Lower cost of operation
  • Additional revenue from IMS services such as rich communication services (RCS) and Visual Voicemail
VoLTE, however, brings a long a number of challenges such as poor battery performance, voice quality and call set up times. Below are a few of them.

The first LTE capable phones were known for their poor battery life and flipped between circuit- switched voice calls. LTE for data was said to be one of the key reasons for this, so the poor battery performance of VoLTE calls will be of concern for the industry. However, with proper testing, the performance is expected to improve.

As such, the industry now has to have a brand new LTE backhaul in the network, which has to handle the voice packets and traffic in a way that isn’t designed to discriminate between the individual packets being carried across the network. Latency is going to be critical. Voice quality is going to be an extremely important metric for SPs and device manufacturers, to ensure that it is sufficient and that they can guarantee a good voice service over LTE networks.

Furthermore, customer experience is compromised with VoLTE because call set-up time is approximately four seconds, rather than a fraction of a second.

Because of the issues just mentioned, VoLTE testing should include development testing, conformance testing, as well as interoperability testing to ensure good quality of user experience.

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