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September 15, 2015

Three beats EE & Vodafone to VoLTE pole position

UK gets first service offering voice calls over 4G networks.

By Alexander Sword

Mobile operator Three has launched the UK’s first commercial voice over 4G service.

Branded as 4G Super-Voice, the Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service will allow Three to provide coverage in mobile blackspots currently not covered by 3G and 2G voice networks, as well as improve the quality of voice calls.

The operator will offer the service both through its higher 1800 Mhz spectrum and its newly rolled out 800 Mhz spectrum. The lower frequency spectrum will give calls better ability to penetrate buildings.

Free to Three customers with compatible devices, 4G Super-Voice will be available to 50 percent of the UK population from launch and more than three quarters of London, Edinburgh, Exeter and Birmingham.

It will extend the service to 65 percent of the country, including in Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol.

With the launch, the UK joins other countries including the USA, China, Germany and Japan where VoLTE is already offered.

Three has beaten the other operators, all racing to offer their own VoLTE services.

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"O2 is a bit behind," says Kester Mann, Principal Analyst at CCS Insight. "Vodafone and EE are on the verge of offering it. Over the next six months all operators will probably have launched it."

EE, which has announced an overhaul of its broadband services due to customer complaints, is currently trialling VoLTE across its network and issued a statement on 8 September, emphasising plans not to launch the service before call quality is adequate.

"We’ve seen operators in other markets launch a VoLTE service before they were really ready and the experience has not been good for customers – we’re not going to make that mistake, and even with 93 percent 4G population coverage, we’re going to continue to trial internally until the dropped call rate is at or below our current 0.4% benchmark.

"Providing the highest quality voice service has to be the main priority."

O2 will start trialling the service in December, perhaps having been slowed down by its lack of spectrum acquired in the 2013 auction. Vodafone announced in March that it would launch the service ‘this summer.’

According to Mann, Three beating the other operators is not a surprise.

"It is something we had anticipated. They have made some noises about deploying the spectrum. They have managed to jump the gun ahead of other operators; being the smallest operator this is perhaps a bit of a coup.

Mann named several advantages of deploying VoLTE from the operator perspective.

"There’s an incentive for operators to use 4G for voice because of the efficiency benefit in doing so. By using the 800 Mhz spectrum band they are able to offer services in a wider area.

"It provides a better experience and quality of call. It could keep churn down but I don’t think it’s something that they’ll see incremental revenue from."

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