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November 4, 2009

One Voice, LTE, and the Return of IMS

Just when you thought it was time to adopt a smartphone or other mobile device capable of supporting the alphabet soup of WCDMA, HSDPA, HSUPA or HSPA 3G wireless broadband, along comes a whole new generation of equipment. In the world of wireless broadband and 4G (or almost 4G) technologies, WiMAX, despite many delays in North America, has had a headstart over its competitor, the Internet Protocol-based LTE (Long-Term Evolution). WiMAX proponents Sprint/Clearwire and Intel are mightily attempting to push the technology into a telecom device near you. Now, however, LTE is finally starting to rapidly gain massive industry acceptance.

Various people other than myself have been intrigued by LTE. For example, when he’s not touting shared spectrum/secondary access, telecom industry guru Brough Turner of NMS Labs (and now the Ashtonbrooke start-up) has been a blatant fan of LTE for some time now, pooh-poohing WiMAX to some degree.

And now, a dozen or so mobile network operators and equipment vendors—such as Alcatel-Lucent AT&T, Nokia Siemens, Orange, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Telefonica, TeliaSonera, Verizon and Vodafone) have announced a new initiative, “One Voice,” which is essentially an agreement over LTE standards involving the delivery of voice and SMS (Short Messaging Service) worldwide.

As its name implies, Long-Term Evolution is an evolutionary advance on previous 3G technologies, allowing for international roaming/interoperability and boosting the bandwidth allocated for wireless uploads and downloads to something ranging between 50 and 100+ Mbps, far greater than what’s been demonstrated with WiMAX, though WiMAX proponents say that they can compete successfully with LTE in terms of bandwidth. Indeed, with this agreement and ultimate “homologation” of specifications and equipment, One Voice should share some compatibility with its 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) specification ancestors. Although LTE is often thought of as mostly a conduit for data transmission, voice will doubtless be thoroughly tested as soon as possible, since that low-bandwidth, high-profit service is still the “killer” app for any network operator.

Delivering the keynote at the LTE Americas 2009 Conference, Tony Melone, Verizon Wireless senior vice president and chief technology officer, said that Verizon Wireless’ wants to be seen as a network leader as it rolls out the nation’s first 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless network, and that this leadership commitment extends to “fostering global collaboration and enabling the broader ecosystem needed to exploit the capabilities of a great network.”

He emphasized that “we can’t just wait and let these expectations unfold — we need to drive it,” and that’s why in addition to building one of the first 4G LTE wireless networks on the globe, Verizon Wireless is taking a proactive approach to fuel this ecosystem of innovation through many collaborative initiatives, including open development, an product incubator-like Verizon LTE Innovation Center, the promotion of a Verizon Developer Community and V CAST Apps, a 4G Venture Forum that brings together a venture capital funds to quickly identify and commercialize innovation, a strategic partnership with Google, and a Joint Innovation Lab venture built with China Mobile, Japan’s Softbank and Vodafone to develop a software platform enabling developers to create mobile apps to run seamlessly across multiple operating systems.

The Return of IMS

Interestingly, the appearance of One Voice trumpets the triumphant return of the IP Multimedia Subsystem, or IMS, a standard service architecture for the world’s wireless and wireline networks. IMS, another brainchild of the 3GPP, is a way for network operators to quickly develop and deploy IP multimedia services. Just like LTE, it was formulated by the 3GPP (and later TISPAN) to evolve mobile networks beyond the ubiquitous, though severely aging, GSM wireless network. Over the years it too has evolved, from merely providing data Internet services over GSM’s data conduit, GPRS, to supporting various other networks such as CDMA2000, wireless LANs, and wireline networks.

Interestingly Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson also support the competing Voice over LTE via Generic Access (VoLGA) approach, which is a take-off on the existing 3GPP Generic Access Network (GAN) standard, known previously as Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), a technology heavily promoted by Kineto Wireless and supported by T-Mobile International. Whereas IMS adoption by network operators can involve recreating core telephony services in IMS, VoLGA can quickly and simply convert the existing telephony infrastructure into a packet service delivered over IP via LTE.

Moreover, Nokia Siemens has a pet initiative called Fast Track Voice, which also is a quick, easy (not to mention inexpensive) way to provide voice service over LTE via simple software and hardware upgrades to the existing mobile softswitches and NVS VoIP servers in the 3GPP circuit-switch core network. Thus, Nokia Siemens’ "Fast Track VoLTE" approach enables operators to inexpensively offer voice over LTE (VoLTE) in any mobile network architecture via the existing infrastructure, or by later adopting IMS.

Despite these parallel and somewhat competitive developments, the One Voice initiative companies decided that an IMS-based approach “is the most applicable approach to meeting the consumers’ expectations for service quality, reliability and availability when moving from existing circuit-switched telephony services to IP-based LTE services. This approach will also open the path to service convergence, as IMS is able to simultaneously serve broadband wireline and LTE wireless networks.”

A “Smartphone on Wheels”

Also, at Euronext Paris today, Alcatel-Lucent discussed the LTE Connected Car concept, an in-vehicle broadband connectivity showcase introduced by the ng Connect Program. The LTE Connected Car demonstrates how 4G/LTE mobile broadband access technology may in fact bring many new applications and services to the automobile that are not possible today with current wireless technologies.

Alcatel-Lucent played a central role in the integration of the concept vehicle, a virtual “smartphone on wheels.” Alcatel-Lucent combined an LTE broadband radio link — which brings cloud-based multimedia services into the car—with an in-vehicle WiFi environment to support easy integration with traditional home-based services. Alcatel-Lucent also helped manage the integration of the car’s wireless networks with the on-board operating system provided by QNX Software Systems, a leading provider of embedded systems known for many years for their real-time Unix operating system.

Additionally, Alcatel-Lucent the company managed the end-to-end integration of the multimedia services—including mobile, multiplayer video gaming, video on demand and more — available in the vehicle. Combined, these capabilities enable this networked concept vehicle to offer a wide range of navigation, personal security, vehicle wellness, and “infotainment” services to drivers and passengers alike.


According to the the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), by the end of 2010, 15 LTE compliant networks are expected to be in operation, with 33 coming online in 2012. Likewise, phones with LTE support will appear toward the end of 2011, though voice traffic won’t begin to overshadow data traffic until around 2012 or 2013.


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