Team USA Takes Gold By A Hair in Race To Launch VoLTE

MetroPCS, the fifth largest cellular company in the United States, became the first cellular carrier in the world to offer VoIP over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE), the 4G technology destined to sweep the cellular industry over the next few years. It beat a pair of South Korean companies, who we guess will have to share silver, to market by only 30 minutes or so.

MetroPCS put its first phone capable of VoLTE, the LG Connect 4G, up for sale at 5:30 PM EST on Tuesday. That moment was 6:30 AM Wednesday in Korea, at least half an hour before stores from South Korea’s largest cellular operator, SK Telecom, and its third largest, LG U+, starting selling the VoLTE-capable  Samsung’s Galaxy S III.

No matter that for now MetroPCS can only deliver VoLTE in the Dallas-Fort Worth market (its promising more markets in the near future). It’s the bragging rights of being first that we’re talking about here – just as MetroPCS was the first to offer LTE (in a version not suited for VoIP), way back in September 2010, long before larger carriers got on the bandwagon.

Bragging rights are nice, but what’s more important is that we’ve now seen the first baby steps in what I’ve been predicting for a long time will soon become a headlong rush into LTE, and with it the use of VoIP over LTE … VoLTE … powering the phone calls. Actually, I’m not even sure that the term “phone” tells the whole story any more. We’re actually talking handheld mobile broadband devices, with “phone” as one of the many applications running on the device.

As an example of just how fast VoLTE is moving, it was just this past February that I noted in a blog post that Qualcomm and Ericsson disclosed that they had completed the first voice call handover from an LTE mobile network to a WCDMA network using Single Radio Voice Call Continuity (SRVCC). SRVCC, a 3GPP specified feature that enables continuity of service by seamlessly switching to a WCDMA network when a consumer on a VoLTE call leaves the LTE network’s coverage area, is critical for VoLTE to be practical.

The bottom line is that it won’t be long now before users of VoIP carriers such as Phone.com will be able to use their cell phones as VoIP-based virtual extensions of their office phone system (Phone.com users can already create such virtual extensions, but the conversations still go over the aging switched cellular network).

Another interesting point of note is that, given the massive bandwidth that LTE provides for wireless data, it’s been possible for even the very first VoLTE capable phones and network access points to support High Definition (HD) voice – which incidentally Phone.com does have available on VoIP desktop phones.