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US Wireless Carriers Shifting To Voice Over LTE 126

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-you-hear-me-now dept.
jfruh writes "For years for cell phone companies, one specific kind of data — voice calls placed by dialing a traditional telephone number — was entirely different from all the other kinds of data a phone used. But in the U.S., that's finally starting to change, as all the major carriers are planning shifts to voice over LTE. The carriers promise sharper call quality and quicker connections."
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US Wireless Carriers Shifting To Voice Over LTE

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Or will it be counted per minute? Per byte sounds more reasonable.

    • by Bradmont (513167) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:30PM (#47076953)

      Will it count against the data, or will it be counted per minute? Per byte sounds more reasonable.

      Do you have any doubt that it will be counted as both?

      • by BronsCon (927697)
        This. Sadly, AT&T and Verizon will definitely do this. I don't doubt that T-Mobile will, as well, but since they offer unlimited (albeit, there's a cap on LTE speeds and you get throttled back to 2G speeds when you hit it -- unless you pay $30/mo for unlimited, which I do) it won't be quite as much of a cash grab for them. Sprint is an entirely different situation, being unlimited, but not really having enough data capacity to support it...
        • I have a shared 3GB month data cap (family plan), but unlimited voice with Verizon. Are you saying that by virtue of making this change, my contract is by default null-and-void?! Wow, I'd love to see the backlash from that hammer!!!

          • by BronsCon (927697)
            It depends. They could VLAN the voice traffic and not count it toward your data plan. The question is, will they? We're talking about Verizon; this isn't outside the realm or possibility in any way, but only time will tell.
            • This is how it already works. It's a 3gpp or similar high compression digital codec running over IPv6. This is all just marketing fluff.
              • by BronsCon (927697)
                No, it's not how it already works. The GSM/LTE radio currently takes raw audio from the phone and compresses it with dedicated hardware, then blasts it out to the tower. It may be using IPv6, it may not be, but in either case, the compression, processing, and connection negotiation for voice data is done in hardware currently.. In fact, much more efficient, dedicated hardware.

                What's being discussed here is a software solution. Audio processing and compression done in software, on the general purpose CPU.
                • Modern Intel CPUs do accelerate AES, H.264, MPEG2, and VC-1 in hardware (AES-NI and Quick Sync Video respectively) already. So we know that it's trivial to place CODECs instructions on the die. My only question is this: Do modern Android and iPhones have CPUS with these CODECs instructions already? If the answer is no, then it will happen in the next generation or two of phones. That much is a given. The battery hit is just too much for them to ignore this.

                  • by BronsCon (927697)
                    And this is a software solution, meaning it could end up on today's phones with nothing more than an update or an app download.
                    • The whole point of performing an operation in hardware is that it often draws less power then if processing the function as a general app. You know this, so why would you favor a software solution at the expense of less battery run-time? Certain CODECs are and should be hosted on their own custom ASIC if it's not worth sacrificing precious CPU die space.

                    • by BronsCon (927697)
                      I'm sorry you didn't get what I was hinting at; please allow me to clarify. My point was that this *is* a software solution and that carries can push this as an update or a "forced" app download and if they're serious about implementing VoLTE, you can be sure they *will* do so. The few of us who run a rooted phone with a non-factory ROM will be unaffected, but, if it gets pushed as an update to *current* phones, the general population of smartphone users gets screwed on battery life.
                    • That would be par for the course as far as the cell phone industry is concerned. But assuming they would do exactly that, I can only imagine a transitional window of a few months to year/s before they cut off the old method. That means that unless you've downloaded the update yourself, phone "root-ers" could be left high and dry without service. After all, they don't support rooted phones anyways unless you're willing to go back to the stock standard OS/config.

        • by billstewart (78916) on Friday May 23, 2014 @05:15PM (#47078741) Journal

          I don't know the VoLTE protocols, but for regular PBX-style VOIP, the voice compression is good enough and the voice payload in the packets is small enough that most of the bandwidth is used for IP/UDP/RDP headers, not the actual voice. There are way too many standards to choose from, but most of them run about 5KB/sec or less (that's bytes, not bits), so about 300 KB/min, or about 3000 min for 1 GB. There are people who use that much voice time, but not many :-) I'd expect that for a while you'll see multiple different standards for handling hd-mobile-to-hd-mobile, sd-mobile-to-sd-mobile, mobile-to-wireline, mobile-to-other-mobile-carrier, etc.

          Back around 1990, I went to a technology talk by a guy from MCI who thought that the conflicting economics of offering voice and video on the same network were going to be a serious problem for telcos - video at the time meant ~1.5-3 Mbps corporate teleconferencing, and either you could price video too high to sell much of it, or you could sell T1 bandwidth cheaply enough to make videoconferencing affordable, in which case you'd undercut your voice pricing because companies would buy your video T1s to interconnect their PBXs for cheap. Better video compression got us out of that hole for a few years (384kbps or especially 128kbps video didn't cause that much trouble), but the Internet came along and started doing the same technological undercutting, VOIP started becoming feasible, etc. Mobile phones gave us a way to charge lots of money per minute again, but Moore's Law is still relentless.

          Disclaimer: I do work for AT&T, but I do computer security, not mobile phones, so I have no idea what they're planning to charge for this, this is my own opinion, not the company's, blah blah blah. On the other hand, I have been doing various kinds of telco things for many generations of technology :-)

          • by BronsCon (927697)
            Just speculating here, but I wouldn't be surprised if, since it's being done in software, a less effective (this more efficient) algorithm is used for VoLTE. LTE data channels already use more power than LTE or GSM voice channels, by virtue of the data being processed by a general purpose chip (e.g. the phone's ARM CPU) versus the GSM or LTE radio handling the encoding of the voice data, so we're already looking at a substantial impact on battery life. Using an algorithm that yields best-case compression on
      • by Shakrai (717556) on Friday May 23, 2014 @03:07PM (#47077407) Journal

        Do you have any doubt that it will be counted as both?

        Stop with the FUD. Verizon doesn't double dip for MMS (picture messages use data, but they do not add to your data usage), even though such double dipping would likely go unnoticed, why would they do it for minutes?

        There's plenty of legitimate things to bash the cellular carriers for without making shit up.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Why would they do it for minutes?

          As an experience and abused Verizon subscriber, I would offer several reasons.

          (A) The can
          (B) They want to
          (C) They are Verizon
          (D) All of the above

          My guess is D.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          Stop with the FUD. Verizon doesn't double dip for MMS (picture messages use data, but they do not add to your data usage), even though such double dipping would likely go unnoticed, why would they do it for minutes?

          Verizon does double-dip in some situations, and has TRIED to do it more, but once the DoJ put their foot on Verizon's neck and started investigating, Verizon changed their mind... Or rather, delayed the changes indefinitely, and eventually rolled them out only slowly to new customers and new de

      • by amorsen (7485)

        Voice traffic is not worth measuring. It just does not take up bandwidth at all.

    • by alen (225700)

      everyone offers unlimited minutes these days

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      probably. I currently have verizon, and I get unlimited calls and text, but limited data (family plan that im not in charge of, verizon talked my dad into "upgrading" IE losing unlimited data) I can see verizon counting the call data as data and still insisting that you have unlimited calling
    • Good morning, Anonymous Coward! I am the CEO of , and we heard about your idea of charging by the byte. We think this is a very fair system for consumers, since they will only pay for service that they utilize. Because we like your idea so much, we will be offering the bare-minimum introductory price to you, at $0.01 per byte! Sign-up now to lock-in this pricing for one full year! We thank you for your input, and we can't wait to see what comes ahead!
    • by Livius (318358)

      ...byte sounds...

      I see what you did there....

  • Seamless fallback (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vigmeister (1112659) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:30PM (#47076933)

    Blindingly obvious to me is the fact that voice calls and SMS reaches me even without a high bandwidth 3G or faster data connection. If this leads to better network coverage for high speed data, I will be the first to celebrate, but until then I will stick to a split data/voice provider ... or one that can transition relatively seamlessly between the two types of networks...

    Cheers!

    • by TWX (665546)
      Don't worry. I'm fairly sure that they won't, unless you want to pay for a high-availability account or something.
    • until [data coverage improves] I will stick to a split data/voice provider ... or one that can transition relatively seamlessly between the two types of networks

      The article mentions that T-Mobile will implement handoff from VoLTE to the legacy system. "T-Mobile is using eSRVCC (Enhanced Single Radio Voice Call Continuity), a feature from the LTE Advanced set of standards, CTO Neville Ray wrote in a blog post. The new feature will ensure calls don't get dropped when users move into areas that don't have LTE, he said."

      • by KeithJM (1024071) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:57PM (#47077291) Homepage
        They won't want to pay for both systems forever though. The reason you'd do something like is partly to make your customers happy, but partly because you realize you're installing two sets of hardware on each tower (one for data, one for telephone calls) and if you treated everything like data, you could save money on purchasing and maintaining the hardware because you'd only need to install one.
        • by omnichad (1198475)

          And eventually you could use both frequencies you control for LTE, leading to much higher capacity.

          • by TubeSteak (669689)

            And eventually you could use both frequencies you control for LTE, leading to much higher capacity.

            Only if you have enough bandwidth in the older block of frequencies.

            If they can't use a big enough chunk of frequency, they can't run LTE at a high speed.
            It's been a point of contention around the airwave auctions, with AT&T in particular being pissed off about the terms.

    • I do not know if I should apologize for RTFA or that I made the post above without doing so....

    • by serbanp (139486)

      Unfortunately, the major carriers keep scaling down the voice repeaters to increase the data bandwidth instead. The network I'm on (Sprint) is getting worse and worse for pure voice calls, with new dead zones appearing very frequently - all in a metropolitan area.

      Soon the voice service will be so bad you'll be happy to permanently switch to VoIP.

  • From the article: "For VoLTE to work, both phones on the call need to have the software." So it doesn't work by having the network act as a proxy between the old GSM voice protocol and the new VoLTE protocol. Will it work even if both VoLTE-supporting phones are on different carriers, or will calls between AT&T and T-Mobile need to fall back to old tech?
    • And will calls across carriers count against your data cap?

    • by BronsCon (927697)
      Also, will it fail when two companies implement VoLTE slightly differently? Think early 802.11n implementations...
      • by pkinetics (549289)

        Heck it is IM different protocols. Except this is your phone.

        Can't wait to see what happens when it hits the same iMessage fiasco.

        • by BronsCon (927697)
          This is open "enough" that it'll just come down to implementation details, more or less. Still, I'm not hopeful that the device manufacturers won't manage to fuck it up.
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      From the article: "For VoLTE to work, both phones on the call need to have the software." So it doesn't work by having the network act as a proxy between the old GSM voice protocol and the new VoLTE protocol. Will it work even if both VoLTE-supporting phones are on different carriers, or will calls between AT&T and T-Mobile need to fall back to old tech?

      Old tech. VoLTE is only for the air interface protocol in handling calls and passing them off to the POTS network.

      You see, LTE is data only, and it work

  • Wouldn't this make it obvious that voice/data are interchangeable and limiting one would be silly?
    • by AvitarX (172628)

      Is it possible to put a meaningful dent in data using voice?

      5 hours a day using the highest voip kbps here (http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/support/docs/voice/voice-quality/7934-bwidth-consume.html) gives me 80MB/month.

      • by omnichad (1198475)

        Google tells me that 150 hours * 8 kilobits per second is 527 megabytes per month. And that's the lowest bitrate I can find for wideband voice (G.729). Skype uses 5 times that.

        • by AvitarX (172628)

          yes, I messed up and only went to minutes from hours, shame on me.

          For people that still talk a lot, it will be a relevant amount of data.

          • by omnichad (1198475)

            In my case, going with 15kbps because I'm hoping for that as a minimum, would be 43MB/mo. (wife and I combined) at my talking level.

            • by AvitarX (172628)

              I use about 30 - 300 minutes / month now.(wow, before smart phones I would regularly break 2000), so that's 3.5 - 35 at 16kbps (I used 2 KB, because google).

    • by timeOday (582209) on Friday May 23, 2014 @03:43PM (#47077847)
      What makes them different is time-sensitivity. Voice packets can't be delayed, even for a quarter-second, without making talking really annoying. Sure voice packets should still use the same protocol, but they need higher priority, and you would expect to pay less for lower priority stuff that isn't interactive - even streaming video can easily be buffered for a half-second to mask jitter.
  • Some problems (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jd (1658)

    First, data doesn't get the same protections as voice. Not that voice gets much protection as it is.

    Second, carriers have said they will throttle data connections. This has serious implications for digital because it means carrier-to-carrier connections will (not may, will) be of inferior quality.

    Third, I would believe digital was going to deliver, except that nobody uses much in the way of error-correction, the speakers and microphones are deteriorating in quality and reliability is naff.

    Lastly, phone comp

    • by michrech (468134)

      http://www.jitterbugdirect.com... [jitterbugdirect.com]

      • Jitterbug's been a great phone for my mom. Her vision's not very good, so she doesn't bother texting (she'd need to hold a magnifying glass in one hand and use the phone with the other) , and she's stubborn enough she doesn't like to carry the phone around unless she expects to need it (e.g. going somewhere that she'll need to call a taxi), but it's reliable, does voice just fine, has big buttons for dialing, and makes free long-distance calls (so she doesn't bother buying long-distance from her landline t

    • My smartphone reboots itself regularly for no obvious reason.

      That's probably not AT&T or verizon's fault though.

      I used to be able to run a phone on full batteries for 2 days without a recharge. (Yes, phones "do more", but I don't bloody well want most of the more and the bits I do want aren't any bloody good! That is NOT a good exchange for 1/12th the uptime and nobody sells low-consumption phones any more.)

      Well then go back to a dumb phone. 38 days of battery life on the nokia 515 [wired.com]. Or buy an expanded battery. Plus, again, how is that your carrier's fault?

      I can't remember the last free phone upgrade offered.

      Did phone companies ever offer you a phone that was worth more than $20 without a contract?

      The first part of your post makes sense I think but asking AT&T to give you a free portable computer that has no software problems and doesn't occasionally need energy is a bit unrealistic.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        Well then go back to a dumb phone. 38 days of battery life on the nokia 515. Or buy an expanded battery. Plus, again, how is that your carrier's fault?

        I got the Nokia 301 (the plastic predecessor of the 515) before the 515 was announced.

        The battery life is never 38 days unless you use your phone as a paper weight.
        The phones have not lived up to the marketing hype and Nokia is several firmware updates deep in trying to meet their published specs.

        IMO the relevant number to look at is talk time:
        The 301 has 6 hours of 3G talk time.
        The 515 has 5.3 hours of 3G talk time.

        To put that into perspective, for the 515, every minute of talk is worth ~3 hours (171 minut

    • by nabsltd (1313397)

      I used to be able to run a phone on full batteries for 2 days without a recharge.

      I have an LG G2 and always get at least 50 hours before I hit 10% remaining on my battery. I have gone as much as 79 hours before getting down that low.

      If my phone is idle, it uses around 1% per hour. Running most apps, I don't use more than 3% per hour, unless I run something that really uses the CPU or GPU. E-mail, web, light games, etc., all are easy on my battery.

      That's on a phone with a quad-core processor, 1920x1080 screen, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of flash storage.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You're forgetting iPV6 has protections for VoIP as well as added other beneffits. As more carriers make the switch its reasonable to assume everyone will just use this down the road

    • by xfade551 (2627499)

      My smartphone reboots itself regularly for no obvious reason. I used to be able to run a phone on full batteries for 2 days without a recharge.

      This has happened to me before: you probably have some app with a memory leak running in the background (or possibly some malware). One common warning sign is when a free app started out good, but after some patch, started serving up a whole bunch of advertisement. Start with uninstalling any rarely-used free applications and see if the problem goes away, then update your other apps.

  • ISDN flashback (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BaronM (122102) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:44PM (#47077147)

    Once upon a time when 128Kbps BRI ISDN was fast, voice calls were frequently billed at a lower per-minute rate than data calls. To take advantage of this, a common trick was to place a voice call and then pass data over it. This did result in a lower data rate of 56Kbps per channel or 112Kbps overall, but if that was enough, you could save a lot of money.

    Fast-forward to VOLTE.

    Most wireless carriers offer unlimited voice minute plans. Since it's all going to be IP over LTE now, I have to wonder if there will a way to pass your data off as a 'voice' call and avoid data caps and limits? Not on a stock phone, but on a rooted device with a custom OS build, maybe?

    • by alen (225700)

      so how does netflix look like at 64kbps? what about 256kbps?

    • by profplump (309017)

      Absolutely. There's nothing to stop you using a modem with your voice link. As in the ISDN days the bandwidth is much more limited when you used the encoded voice channel, and as with all voice connections you can only reach one endpoint at a time, but if you want to setup a PPP gateway someplace you can call into it and slowly exchange data with it all day long.

      I suspect you'll have trouble improving upon the $/byte ratio when limiting yourself to cellular modem speeds -- your voice channel is probably les

    • by amorsen (7485)

      Modern wide-band codecs use on the order of 50kbps for really high quality voice. If you use 50kbps continuously, you have added 16GB to your data cap each month (or 32GB is you transfer full duplex). Useful perhaps, but your phone would be constantly busy and battery life would suck. What are you going to transfer at 6kBps per second anyway?

    • When you make a VOIP connection, you're signalling to the network that you want to do that, it finds you the IP address and port number, either for a gateway into the old telco network or else for the phone you're calling. That's not getting you out to the public internet, though if you've got another friend with another rooted phone who's also got an active wifi connection, maybe you could do something useful with it.

      But remember the other signalling that's going on, between your phone and the cell tower

    • by evilviper (135110)

      , I have to wonder if there will a way to pass your data off as a 'voice' call and avoid data caps and limits?

      2G networks got about 20kbps data throughput. Sure, you could set-up a call and do some acoustic coupling for data modulation over a call, but that's the ballpark of the speed you'll be getting.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      Consumers wouldn't WANT the low speeds and inconvenience of the ad-hoc process, and I'm pretty sure business customers (like alarm service providers) could get dedicated data

  • Data, communications, all synonymous, eh? I mean, HTTP really is a back and forth exchange.

    Yep, reclassifying all Internet services as Title II makes so much sense.

  • Remember a time when cellular carriers were trying to justify getting rid of unlimited data plans by claiming that the networks were becoming oversaturated?

    Pepperidge Farms remembers. And we'll remember it when it happens again.

    • This will actually help!

      First, voice doesn't use that much data. For example, Viber (a popular VOIP app) uses 0.5MB/min which would be about 0.5GB for 1000min.

      More importantly, once every one is transitioned off 3G onto 4G/LTE (i.e. VOIP over LTE) the carriers can repurpose the 3G spectrum for 4G and thereby gain more 4G/LTE capacity.

  • So, now your voice calls impact your data caps?
  • Let's see - drop the voice connections. Decreased operations cost for the provider. Don't pass the cost reduction to the customer. SCORE! Use more bandwidth, making people either go over data caps and get penalized or have to buy larger data allowances and pay more for service. SCORE AGAIN! Tell them how awesome the new service is, when the old service worked and sounded just fine, making you look like a hero for screwing them over. TRIPLE SCORE! Use the extra income to build out your network! Oh, wai
  • VoLTE IMS voice uses a dedicated low latency guaranteed bearer for the RTP packets. Traffic on this bearer is charged separately and is not routable to regular Internet.
    The SIP signaling also uses a dedicated AP that cannot be used for anything else. Traffic is only allowed towards P-CSCF.
    All the IMS client, Quality of Service and dedicated bearers are implemented in the baseband chip (Qualcom dominates that market) and is off-limits to the operating system of the phone, even to root.
  • Which has no measurable LTE. But I'm sure they'll tell us they're 'upgrading the towers in your area' for the next 20 years.

  • T-Mobile is already doing a variant of this. They recently pitched to the company I work for and it was a topic that came up in conversation. They apparently support voice and SMS over IP, so while they're not doing it over LTE, if you've got poor cellular coverage but have WiFi you can use that WiFi to make calls and send SMS texts transparently. It's only supported on Android devices because Apple doesn't want to support it for only one carrier (T-Mobile's explanation).

    Personally, I'd like to see mo

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