MetroPCS, SK Telecom, LG Uplus claim VoLTE firsts

One US and two South Korean operators are vying for the claim to have launched the world’s first commercial VoLTE service.

MetroPCS, in the US, plus SK Telecom and LG Uplus, of South Korea, have all this week announced commercial launches of the technology, which allows voice services to run over ‘4G’ LTE networks.

In a press release, MetroPCS announced the “availability of the world’s first VoLTE-capable handsets and the first sale of a VoLTE-capable handset at one of the company’s Dallas/Fort Worth store locations”.

One US and two South Korean operators are vying for the claim to have launched the world’s first commercial VoLTE service.

MetroPCS, in the US, plus SK Telecom and LG Uplus, of South Korea, have all this week announced commercial launches of the technology, which allows voice services to run over ‘4G’ LTE networks.

In a press release, MetroPCS announced the “availability of the world’s first VoLTE-capable handsets and the first sale of a VoLTE-capable handset at one of the company’s Dallas/Fort Worth store locations”.

MetroPCS is currently marketing just one VoLTE-capable handset, which is actually a South Korean device (the LG Connect 4G Android smartphone), but it expects to add more phones to its portfolio in the coming weeks.

“Being the first operator globally to reach this industry first speaks volumes about our company’s innovative spirit and passion to achieve goals that we believe will have long-term benefit for our customers and for the company,” said Roger Linquist, chairman and chief executive of MetroPCS, in a statement. “The initial move to LTE and this move to VoLTE allow us to achieve significant spectral efficiencies and will increase network capacity so that we can enhance the 4G LTE experience that our customers have today at a tremendous value. VoLTE also provides a foundational capability for future Rich Communication Services (RCS), which we plan to launch later this year.”

MetroPCS is fond of claiming the first-to-market label, having previously argued it was the first US operator to deploy a commercial LTE network in September 2010.

Promoting VoLTE, however, may be difficult until the arrival of the RCS Linquist mentions. As MetroPCS appears to acknowledge, VoLTE’s main benefits may be to improve efficiency and reduce costs for operators, with customers largely oblivious to the technological innovation.

MetroPCS’s LTE network now covers some 90% of the footprint of its older, CDMA system. Because LTE can now support voice, as well as data, the operator could choose to shut down its CDMA network in years to come, running all services over a single, highly efficient technology. But that would require it first to shift customers over to VoLTE devices.

Earlier this week, SK Telecom “celebrated the first and second customers for the world’s first high-quality nationwide VoLTE service”.

SK Telecom is marketing the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE phone and claims that its LTE network already covers some 99% of the South Korean population.

Unlike MetroPCS, SK Telecom insists the service, branded ‘HD Voice’, delivers noticeable improvements to customers. “The minute I purchased the phone, I tried out the VoLTE service and was impressed with its superior call quality and call connection time,” said Hong Ok-jung, SK Telecom’s second VoLTE customer, in a press release issued by the company.

In other press reports, the SK Telecom VoLTE service is said to provide much shorter call connection times than customers experience over 2G and 3G networks.

Not to be outdone, smaller rival LG Uplus launched its own VoLTE service at the same time. It is currently offering it to customers on the LG Optimus 2 smartphone, but aims to have a total of seven VoLTE-capable smartphones in its catalogue by the end of the year.