A report on Korea’s English-language Yonhap News portal is citing its own sources in confirming AT&T currently testing its delayed VoLTE service, now slated for launch later this year with the launch of the carrier-exclusive Asus Padfone X. The report elaborates further by stating that the devices AT&T are using for the test are in fact Samsung smartphones, but the source declined to elaborate on which models were being used for network testing.
AT&T previously announced support for VoLTE during last year’s CES with the previous goal of launching service and devices during the year, though that launch never came to fruition, while re-announcing the launch of the service at this year’s show with a new flagship device in the aforementioned Padfone X. It should also be noted that AT&T has a history of announcing VoLTE support as far back as 2011, with no launch timeframe to speak of until now.
When rolled out properly, VoLTE is supposed to move all voice calls via the LTE network and theoretically allow cellular operators the freedom to slowly transition away from GSM/3G circuit switching for voice calls, making network maintenance much less expensive once all customers are on LTE. However, in real-world deployment scenarios, it has yet to demonstrate a tangible benefit to both carriers and customers outside of improvements to voice quality and still requires compatible handsets to fully make use of the technology, which AT&T has yet to release commercially.
A Short History of VoLTE In The US
MetroPCS became the first US carrier to roll out VoLTE service in 2012 with an updated version of the LG Connect 4G that August, but never expanded the service outside of its home market in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, as it would be purchased by T-Mobile just nine months later, and T-Mobile’s own network chief expressed reservations about what to do with the VoLTE implementation after the reverse merger of the two carriers was announced earlier that year.
Currently the service is still active for customers already using the lone supported device, but T-Mobile is currently pushing its own implementation of HD Voice (otherwise known as AMR-WB) without VoLTE support on 8 devices in its current slate, with more to be added this year.
With T-Mobile on the fence with a changing attitude thanks to its recent 700Mhz purchase and positive growth, Sprint remaining mum on the subject and Verizon not planning any VoLTE hardware launches until the end of the year after its own delays, VoLTE isn’t being treated as the pressing transition that LTE service itself is being touted as, though with AT&T launching this year along with concrete products to support the service, that may get more carriers to sit up and take notice.