What Is VoLTE Calling? (It’s More Interesting Than It Sounds)

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Google’s Project Fi is an impressive and innovative bit of wireless technology. Using multiple radios — including Wi-Fi and 4G LTE — it automatically connects you to the network with the best signal. In this way, coverage is simplified and you never have to worry about losing signal. At least that’s the idea.

To ensure the service works as it should, Google has partnered up with several 4G LTE network providers, because Google itself doesn’t actually own any wireless spectrum.

Reviews of the service are relatively glowing. However, things may churn up, even more, thanks to a new service it’s now testing called VoLTE, or voiceover LTE.

Introducing VoLTE

Google just announced it’s testing VoLTE for select subscribers of its Project Fi service. In short, it means voice calls use 4G LTE for better quality and faster connections. This is also extended to apps and services that require extended data coverage, like Google Maps, for instance.

Previously, coverage was favored over Wi-Fi — hence the name, Project Fi. That’s not to say LTE coverage was scarce, but it certainly wasn’t as common for subscribers. This is good news because once it rolls out for everyone, the network will be more on par with the competition.

Calls over LTE will have better-quality audio, will connect and remain in sync longer, and should also experience connection issues a lot less. In the past, all carriers — including the major ones — use voice networks to transfer phone calls as opposed to LTE. Verizon Wireless, for example, used to use the 1XRTT band for all voice calls, while LTE was merely used for data transfer.

With VoLTE, calls are routed through LTE instead.

Currently, only T-Mobile offers VoLTE calling over their service, with Sprint set to follow late in 2017. US Cellular will also be adding VoLTE support at a later date. What does this mean?

It explains why Google is just testing the service for now, aside from ironing out any kinks. If it rolled it out immediately, there would be significantly less coverage for the VoLTE side of things, as only one carrier it’s partnered up with is using it.

It’s worth noting that AT&T and Verizon also use VoLTE, but they are not partnered with Google yet.

volte calling

What Will VoLTE Do for You?

As we have already said, VoLTE allows for faster and better connections in terms of voice calls and data sync. For you, that translates to better and more solid connections and faster data transfer speeds. This also means phones can use more bandwidth and consume more data.

If you’re using Google Maps to navigate, the service will be speedier and more accurate. If you’re using mobile-centric apps to plan your day, they will connect to remote servers faster — and this is true of any app that needs network access.

Ultimately, this allows you to improve productivity.

Making calls is better too. If you get on a call with someone through VoLTE, immediately you’ll notice the difference in audio and call quality. You’ll also notice the call connects much faster, especially if you’re near the person you’re talking to.

In order to take advantage of the VoLTE calling upgrade, however, you must have the correct hardware. If you don’t have a newer phone, created within the last year or so, you probably won’t be able to even use the service. Google’s own phones — the Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 5X and 6P — all work with the service. Outside of that, it’s really hit or miss.



Are There Disadvantages?

There is one, slightly important, problem with VoLTE — at least in its current state. As you may know, data consumption is pricey for wireless customers. Just the fact that calls will be connecting over LTE means you’ll use more data.

Currently, wireless plans are structured so voice calls are billed separately from data usage. This allows carriers to offer peak coverage times, free voice calls to other network subscribers and more. HD Voice and VoLTE calls are not the issue, as the wireless providers still count usage toward your minutes, as opposed to your data cap.

However, things get finicky when you factor in video calls through VoLTE. The voice portion of data consumes minutes like a regular phone call, while the video portion consumes data.

The plus is that you can revert to Wi-Fi when you know you’re going to be making a video call, to conserve minutes and data.

VoLTE Calling Is Coming

Barring Google’s recent announcement, VoLTE calling has been slow to roll out to wireless customers. Most U.S. and Canadian carriers have been ready to use the service for some time, but they just haven’t taken it seriously. It’s good to see they’re now offering service for the various data and voice technologies we use on our phones.

It will still be a little time before we can all take advantage of the technology, but when it comes it will be well worth the wait. It will help us all be a little more productive and efficient in our daily lives.

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Kayla Matthews is the editor of Productivity Bytes and a regular contributor to VentureBeat, Motherboard, MakeUseOf and Inc.com. Follow her on Twitter to read her latest posts.