Voice-over-LTE plans of Reliance Industries (RIL) feasible?

Telecom Lead India: Without huge Capex, voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) plans of RIL’s (Reliance Industries) 4G venture will not be a feasible business, analysts and mobile industry experts warned.

This warning is applicable to other 4G (TD-LTE) service providers such as Bharti Airtel, Airtel, Tikona, etc. as well if they are going to rely on 4G network (with mobility) driven voice and data as key business focus areas to succeed in Indian telecom market.

Without huge Capex — which may not bring in enough RoI (return on investment) in the short term — RIL can not succeed with VoLTE and LTE because there will be huge call / data drops even in small area networks, analysts, who do not want to be named, said.

Covering pan-India with 4G network is a major task. Broadband data even in the Delhi-NCR region will not offer desired quality of service (Qos) to users — on smartphones, tablets and laptops.

For instance, broadband data users will experience frequent call / data drops when he / she moves out of 4G coverage area. When the user travels from Delhi to Gurgaon, he / she will face call / data drops. This can be reduced by spending huge funds on base stations.

American telecom operators rely on their 2G and 3G networks for the success of LTE. Right now, LTE handsets drop down to older technology to make a voice call. For example, on Verizon a handset drops to CDMA, while on AT&T it drops to GSM.

“Will Indian mobile users opt for a 2G service provider and another 4G service provider? It is highly unlikely,” said a top official with a telecom operator.

However, if RIL is looking for offering enterprise connectivity, there is a business case. They can offer high-speed data services to thousands of residents / employees in a hotel / residential area. Mobility will be a challenge.

The other challenge is the lack of availability of 4G phones. Though Indian operators got BWA (broadband wireless spectrum) in 2010 and Airtel launched TD-LTE services in 2012, Huawei is the only operator to unveil the country’s first 4G phone in India.

Globally, the entire ecosystem is still the process of developing 4G devices and smartphones. According to ARC Charts there will be over 74 million VoLTE enabled handsets in the market by 2016.

Plus, Indian users will look for cost effective smart devices.

Analysts feel that RIL — as a standalone LTE service provider — may not make a strong business case. This is one of the reasons for delay in launching the fourth generation mobile broadband services.

If operators such as Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Airtel, Aircel, etc. are increasing their 3G presence, it will further impact RIL’s 4G plans.

However, there will be huge demand for 4G because of the speed and better customer experience — which can not be offered by 3G.

Battery issues will further weaken the business case. Voice calls over LTE uses twice as much battery as a current 2G call.

A 10 minute call used 680 milliwatts (mW) on CDMA an 1358 mW on VoLTE. Spirent estimated that on a full charge, and with all other data communications turned off, its test smartphone could deliver 502.6 minutes of talk time using CDMA, but only 251.8 minutes of talk time using VoLTE.

Technical issues

According to Heavy Reading, the recent development of a technical foundation for delivering voice calls over IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) network infrastructure in the form of the voice over LTE (VoLTE) spec finally provided a standardized way to deliver voice calls in addition to broadband data services over LTE networks. Thus it would seem that there is little to keep VoLTE services from spreading worldwide, as well.

But IMS and LTE networks will not always be available in the same places at the same times. And even where they are, operators often will not want or be able to use them together to deliver voice services. As a result, alternative approaches will be necessary or preferable in many situations. There are several possible alternatives. One is to use existing circuit-switched infrastructure to deliver voice, using LTE only to provide mobile data service. A second is to insert additional equipment in the network that makes it possible to send VoLTE wireless links without IMS infrastructure. A third option is to deliver VoIP over the LTE network as a separate all-IP service. Each of the alternatives has disadvantages for operators, and at least one also represents a potential threat.

Look at the history of VoLTE.

In the U.S., where most of technology advancements are happening — MetroPCS, a regional telecom operator, was the only one to launch VoLTE.

Telecom giant Verizon may launch VoLTE in late 2013.

At the beginning of August 2012, VoLTE services were launched in South Korea by SK Telecom and LG U+, the country’s largest and third-largest telecom operators respectively, and MetroPCS pioneered the services in the US.

Benefits

With VoLTE as a basis, consumers will be able to enjoy telecom-grade HD voice, video calling and other new richer communication services on LTE smartphones. This gives operators a comprehensive set of globally standardized, telecom grade quality services to combine with high-speed mobile broadband services.

These services use a regular mobile-phone (MSISDN or Mobile Subscriber Integrated Services Digital Network) number, and VoLTE brings the operator telephony values into an all-IP mobile-broadband network: global interoperability, QoS, roaming and seamless mobility between any mobile devices, over any access technology. With VoLTE, both voice and LTE data services can be used simultaneously on LTE smartphones. Running VoLTE is also more spectral efficient compared to running voice over 2G or 3G, which provides an opportunity for better radio resources utilization when deploying mobile broadband.

The two main infrastructure components needed to build VoLTE services have been delivered by several vendors over the past few quarters, benefitting Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Mavenir Systems.

Chris DePuy, analyst at Dell’Oro Group, said recently: “We expect multiple operators will launch VoLTE services by the end of 2012 after they have tested their networks when affordable handsets are available.”

“Just as important, there are signs that operators will be launching revenue-generating services such as video conferencing, location services, messaging and file sharing in the coming year. These new communication services will represent the first major wireless operator responses to the threats posed by over-the-top services that have been enabled by smartphones,” DePuy added.

Baburajan K
editor@telecomlead.com