Lars Houbak, general manager of Spirent Mobilethink, explains why management support in devices is fundamental for the mobile industry to successfully roll out VoLTE services and for carriers to start getting a full return on investments
Heralded as the most disruptive mobile technology yet, more than an estimated US$1 billion has already been invested by operators to make their networks capable of handling Voice over LTE (VoLTE) traffic. But the return to date on those investments so far is minimal. The expected traffic hasn't happened partly because of device manufacturers failing to upgrade most of their smartphone build with VoLTE Device Management (DM) support, which is the missing link between the users and an easy and hassle-free VoLTE service.
According to a recent GSA's fast fact report, of 410 operators world-wide with commercially-launched LTE networks, only 35 operators have launched VoLTE and VoWiFi services and those that have are for a very limited number of smartphones.
Of the few rolled-out VoLTE systems on today's market, all are based on the PRD-IR.92 deployment model, often referred to as VoLTE Phase 0. However, one of the most critical caveats in IR.92 based VoLTE deployments is that the IP Multimedia System (IMS) and VoLTE devices lack automatic VoLTE DM functionalities.
Missing VoLTE DM functionality means that VoLTE settings are "hard coded" by vendors into the firmware of their devices. In turn, operators have to ensure that their IMS network parameters are aligned with the settings of all the VoLTE device models they support. That requires extensive planning, configuration and testing work, which can occupy operators' engineering teams for several months. When a new firmware version of a smartphone is launched and contains different VoLTE settings, an operator's IMS network will likely need to be reconfigured.
Additionally, subscribers are responsible for checking that their device runs the correct VoLTE compatible firmware version. In the event that it doesn't, they will have to load the correct software version. Bearing in mind the varying "technical" skill levels of the average mobile user, this will just not happen and represents a further barrier to the wholescale deployment of VoLTE services.
The lack of VoLTE DM functionality also prohibits delivery of a fluent roaming service. With investments in IMS likely to grow to over $4 billion by 2017 according to ABI Research, each new VoLTE service provider coming to market will have to test and ensure that their IMS network and the selected VoLTE devices, including firmware versions, are aligned to allow flawless service in all use cases. Without VoLTE DM support, settings can only be updated through firmware updates, potentially causing a need for repeated IMS network configurations and the costly and lengthy process of convincing subscribers to run a firmware update for their devices.
Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) offers another viable solution to the larger challenge of ensuring sufficient indoor coverage and offers a critical service component to combat free OTT services. However, VoWiFi but will require additional call handover capabilities to VoLTE. Ultimately, operators will have to demonstrate to users the improved user experience of this voice service.
Fast call setup time, dramatically improved audio quality and affordable VoWiFi based calls are compelling reasons why consumers will ultimately demand VoLTE and VoWiFi services. But in the meantime, for operators, the continuing lack of automatic VoLTE Device Management support increases operational costs, deteriorates customer satisfaction and further increases the financial "loss" from consumers using free OTT VoIP services instead of revenue-generating VoLTE services.
... Spirent's Mobilethink instant VoLTE fix
Spirent's Mobilethink business unit has built a customer base of over 100 network operators world-wide over the years and it sees its remit to accelerate the much-heralded VoLTE revolution and offer operators an instant solution for the mainstream roll-out of VoLTE services. Mobilethink has already started VoLTE DM Proof of Concept with its European customers and a handful of pilots in other markets are in the pipeline.
Mobilethink's VoLTE-friendly Device Management (DM) solution enables this feature on any smartphone. From power-up, the device automatically requests VoLTE, VoWiFi and RCS settings and Mobilethink's VoLTE DM server then responds immediately to these requests and delivers the correct settings for each device model.
The benefits of Mobilethink's DM fix are fourfold: operators can minimise costs in IMS deployment and operations, can avoid costly network reconfigurations as a result of changed firmware updates, deliver VoLTE services to massive numbers of smartphones and models in any market at any time, and provide roaming services from day one.
... now it's up to device makers
With over $1 billion invested in making networks capable of handling VoLTE traffic, operators are tired of waiting for device manufacturers to make smartphones VoLTE DM-enabled. Whilst Mobilethink has the solution to fix the network side of the VoLTE problem, it is now up to device makers to fix their side of the dilemma. Only then can consumers really enjoy the outstanding benefits of VoLTE and operators can also get a full return on their investments.