AT&T is going to end up late to the LTE game, with its first trial networks going up this year, and wider deployment planned for 2012. In spite of its tardiness, the company is ambitiously mapping out its long-term LTE strategy, as revealed by CTO John Donovan. We can look forward to an official voice-over-LTE service in 2013, with third-party VoIP solutions picking up the slack in the interim.
Though it will be a long, slow process, the adoption of VoLTE and other VoIP services should end up giving networks the freedom to reassign resources previously used for manging their voice services to their new LTE data networks, as smartphone data and voice traffic merge to share a common carrier. For AT&T, that means a seven-year plan that develops new voice-over-data services, followed by the shuttering of hold-over technologies: Time-Division Multiplexing is first in line for the chopping block.
As Donovan explained, without an AT&T VoLTE system ready until 2013, apps are going to emerge as the new kings of voice. He identifies several different types of voice-focused communication, ranging from your basic two-party call, to conferencing, to video chat (which LTE may have the potential to finally get people interested in), which all will fall under the umbrella of “voice services”. Apps like Skype will handle this traffic on AT&T LTE in 2012, as the company’s GSM network continues to handle most straight voice calls.
The big question, one that will likely be decided as AT&T watches how these apps perform, is how the changeover to VoLTE will affect voice pricing. Will we continue to use the “minute” system? Will you pay by the byte, like data, unless you make an out-of-network call? We should get our first taste of how VoLTE billing will play out with Verizon next year, giving AT&T some time to learn what works, and what doesn’t.