4G Will Get VoIP Users Talking


Next generation wireless is round the corner, and Rebtel’s Andreas Bernstrom says mobile VoIP users will benefit

The roll-out of 4G, the next generation cellular wireless standard, although primarily for mobile broadband users, is already well underway in a number of European countries. In Sweden, TeliaSonera, the first operator to offer customers 4G access with transfer speeds equivalent to the fastest commercial fibre connections, already has offerings in place that provide users with coverage in more than 200 locations nation-wide.

Now, it’s time for the UK, where similar efforts have been made by mobile operator, O2, with its first 4G trials in early November. Limited to about a thousand users in London, the trial gives them an early glimpse into what the future holds for mobile high-speed communication.

With the trial well on its way and 4G just around the corner, this new standard will undoubtedly improve the general smartphone experience for all of us by tenfold. But how will it impact mobile VoIP, a technology expected to reach an estimated 410 million users by 2015?

VoIP goes VoLTE and becomes native

Although true 4G, which according to the definition set by the ITU-R (International Telecommunication Union Radio Communication Sector) is 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps, LTE (Long Term Evolution), the technology most commonly advertised as 4G, will still pave the way for much improved real-time voice communication experiences by allowing VoIP to go native.

Verizon is just one example of an operator that’s expected to introduce its VoLTE (Voice over Long Term Evolution) service sometime in 2012.

Currently, subscribers can only use data, but by next year, that will change, with certain 4G supported handsets gaining the ability to connect standard voice calls over the 4G data network, rather than over the old CDMA network.

Right now, Verizon’s handset offerings allow for simultaneous voice and data through a hybrid radio system, where data is transmitted over LTE, while voice calls go through CDMA. By using VoLTE, the device won’t have to activate the CDMA radio. As a result,  devices will have better battery performance and improved call quality.

Regardless of how impressiveVoLTE might be, it is far from reaching a world-wide ubiquitous level. That’s only expected to become a reality in 2020.

Lower latency means better performance and quality

Unlike the 2G and 3G networks, 4G operates in the 700 MHz band. Therefore, the signal is significantly amplified and will be able to penetrate buildings more easily; effectively reducing, and even completely eliminating the pain of losing coverage.

Additionally, latency will be greatly improved. The term simply refers to the time it takes for a packet of data to get from point A to point B. With 4G, that time will be significantly reduced in comparison to the current 3G technologies. High latency often nullifies the selling points of a high bandwidth connection for real-time communication services, such as VoIP, but thanks to the swift process of sending packets, the power usage of smartphones will be reduced, while giving you higher quality calls. 4G latency over LTE is said to be roughly one-fourth of the latency on 3G, down to 50 milliseconds from the previous 200.

Network collaboration makes for less congestion

The way today’s cellular infrastructure works, is that subscribers don’t contribute anything to the network – the more users, the more strain, and the more inconsistent and poor the user experience gets.

Due to the proliferation of smartphones and data-intensive apps, 3G connection speeds have steadily deteriorated. In essence, we’re all competing for the same (and very limited) network resources whenever we make a call or play a game.

In the case of true 4G, however, things are fundamentally different. In a not too distant future, our devices will actually cooperate to obtain increased capacity, rather than go head-to-head with each other. Our phones will essentially work like the broadband routers in our homes, becoming part of the network infrastructure itself. All connected users will “chip in” to carry a part of the network with them, allowing capacity to be shifted and adapted to what individual users are doing on their phones, and depending on how much data those processes demand. We’ll be able to jump back and forth from congested routes to less congested routes, and not have to put up with dropped calls due to over-capacity, slow loading times or poor VoIP call quality.

Andreas Bernstrom is the CEO of VoIP provider, Rebtel.