Telefónica CTO Enrique Blanco @ Mobile World Congress 2013

Telecom Lead @ Mobile World Congress 2013: Telefónica CTO Enrique Blanco says it’s demonstrating a new technology that enables smartphone and tablet users to move between a Wi-Fi and cellular network without losing coverage.

The operator is also exploring the potential for policy-based network management to ease the discovery and selection of the network regardless of the access technology. The overall aim is to enable users to experience uninterrupted service sessions during handovers across different access technologies.

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TeliaSonera has announced that its Danish LTE customers can now roam on its Swedish network, which the operator is proclaiming as a European first. While any development in LTE roaming must be applauded, the time it has taken to reach such a seemingly underwhelming point speaks volumes about the inherent complexities of roaming and the challenges that remain.

“At first glance, the announcement that customers from a market that has had LTE for two years can roam to a network operated by the same company in a neighbouring country looks like nothing exciting. This is especially the case given that the industry is used to international roaming between continents and operators. However, this would be to ignore the progress made in 2G and 3G roaming, and hides the nascent state of the LTE market,” said Steven Hartley, telco strategy analyst, Ovum.

Many challenges remain before LTE roaming becomes ubiquitous. On a global scale, there is spectrum fragmentation, although efforts such as those announced by Qualcomm last week will go a long way towards addressing this. Yet it is the operational perspective and bilateral nature of roaming deals that adds complexity and explains why this is an important stepping stone in the technology’s development.

Telefónica CTO Enrique Blanco

“All of these issues manifest themselves in the commercial details of roaming tariffs. Can innovative mobile broadband tariffs be used abroad? Will pricing be limited to a per megabyte basis? How much will it cost to use LTE abroad? Unfortunately, TeliaSonera has not provided any answers in its announcement, but at least roaming has arrived,” Hartley added.

The operator is also showcasing progress with voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) on a pure, end-to-end LTE network at Mobile World Congress.

VoLTE over IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) is the preferred route for future advanced voice services, but Telefonica is also mindful of the role that over-the-top services can play in voice over IP: “We are also working on the OTT approach,” said Blanco, pointing to the operator’s Tu Go application for voice calls.

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