As new technologies continue to advance networks, the transition to and uptake of VoLTE is rapidly accelerating. In 2016, the number of commercial VoLTE networks reached 102. This represents a significant increase in the use of 4G networks as the mainstream channel for data communications, indicating that operators are commercially motivated towards VoLTE to increase network utilization and reduce costs.

Although 4G network development was slow in the earlier part of the decade, 2016 saw a dramatic increase in its uptake and establishment. In 2016 alone, 57 new commercial VoLTE networks were launched, exceeding the total for the previous four years combined. According to statistics and research from GSMA, the total number of VoLTE commercial networks reached 102 in January 2017 and the total number of global VoLTE users reached 300 million.

Leading operators are planning to shut down 2G and 3G networks to reduce network complexity. VoLTE is essential for such changes.

Globally, there have been a series of major operators increasing their use of VoLTE amid announcements of 2G & 3G closure.

– US giant AT&T began introducing VoLTE into commercial use in 2014 ahead of its official announcement made in January 2017 to shut down GSM networks, simplify O&M and prepare for the migration of voice services.
– In Singapore, three major operators initiated commercial use of VoLTE in 2014. They further announced the shutdown of their 2G networks in 2017.
– Vodafone launched commercial VoLTE on its subnets in countries including Australia, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic. The Australian subnet was the first to shut down 2G networks within the Vodafone group.
– Telenor also launched commercial VoLTE in 2016, announcing that 3G networks would be shut down on their Norwegian subnet by 2020.

VoLTE improves spectral efficiency in emerging markets with a spectrum shortage.

In many emerging markets, the rising number of mobile users has produced a huge demand for network capacity. However, typically governments in these markets only allocate a limited amount of spectrum to operators, causing a shortage. VoLTE presents a natural solution to this problem because the spectral efficiency of VoLTE is as high as 3.3 times that of 2G voice services and 2.5 times that of 3G voice services.

As an example, in Thailand, due to the rapid development of MBB, the country’s three major operators are facing significant challenges with network capacity. Consequently, LTE networks were launched commercially across the country in 2016. At the same time, operators started providing VoLTE services, attempting to migrate 2G and 3G voice services. This saves more spectrum for 4G services, which have higher spectral efficiency, improving overall network capacity.

Operators in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are confronted with similar challenges. STC hopes to accelerate VoLTE user acquisition and use the released spectrum for LTE to improve the quality of 4G network coverage. This strategy has also been adopted by the Zain Group.

VoLTE usage in China and India grows, greatly improving the maturity of the industry chain.

China Mobile launched commercial VoLTE HD voice services in more than 300 cities in 2016, and has now reached over 30 million active VoLTE users. This represents the fastest VoLTE user development in the world, and one that is expected to exceed 150 million in 2017. 900 MHz and 1800 MHz will be re-farmed for LTE, enabling this enormous growth. In 2016, China Mobile set VoLTE as the mandatory capability for terminals submitted for first-round testing. As a result, VoLTE has become a standard configuration for new terminals. The number of VoLTE-capable terminal models now exceeds 700, supporting the entire industry chain for VoLTE to an unprecedented level.

In India, Reliance Jio started providing commercial 4G services in September 2016. Unlike many of their competitors, Reliance Jio only operates 4G networks, and voice services must be provided through the VoLTE solution. To promote the development of VoLTE, they introduced their own VoLTE-capable terminal brand to improve the variety of such terminals. Jio has also launched its LYF smartphone series that support VoLTE. Simultaneously, they collaborated with Spreadtrum to launch VoLTE feature phones at 15 USD, which also support popular apps such as YouTube and Facebook, to match the purchase capability of local consumers. It is reported that Jio acquired more than 15 million users within three months after the launch of its commercial 4G networks. In addition, leading Indian operator Bharti Airtel also announced its commitment to launch commercial VoLTE before 2018, as part of a move to substantially improve its user experience.

VoLTE development will accelerate thanks to the increasing value of VoLTE to operators and the improved maturity of the industry chain.

Historically, from the launch of the world’s first commercial VoLTE networks in South Korea in 2012, between that date and 2015, only 42 commercial VoLTE networks were subsequently launched worldwide. Additionally, large-scale user bases were acquired only in high-end markets such as the United States, Japan, and South Korea. The recent increase observed in 2016 may indicate stronger market confidence and more global operators making the move to migrate voice services to 4G, using VoLTE to prepare for the subsequent network simplification.

The industry chain has now matured, and according to GSA, 158 operators are now investing in VoLTE in more than 72 countries. This includes the 102 VoLTE networks that have already been put into commercial use. The market is expected to become larger in 2017. OVUM estimates that 400 million additional VoLTE users will be acquired in 2017, and the number of VoLTE service connections will reach 3.3 billion by 2021, more than half of which will be 4G network users.


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