I recently had the pleasure to read an excellent article by one of our industry’s leading analysts, Mr. Gabriel Brown of Heavy Reading titled “Analyzing Apple & VoLTE”. In this article, he makes the observation, that Apple – which is well known for keeping a strong focus towards their customer’s enjoying a high quality of experience – has included Voice over LTE (VoLTE) in their newest iPhones. Mr. Brown goes on to quite rightly note that by including VoLTE, Apple makes the case that mobile operators now need an IP Multimedia Core Network Subsystem (IMS core) and a functioning VoLTE service.
Figure 1: Cisco VNI Global Mobile Data Forecast 2013-2018
While I absolutely agree that Apple has provided a strong endorsement to VoLTE by including support for this feature, I believe that the Apple iPhone6 support for Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWiFi) and Text over Wi-Fi maybe as important (or more so). Let me explain. VoLTE is really a fact of life, it is going to happen and as long as a cell phone supports LTE it will be able to make or receive VoLTE calls as long as the carrier implements to network accordingly. However, Wi-Fi has long been maligned as the poor step-child of mobile broadband. Mostly because it is unruly (unlicensed) and anyone can deploy it (don’t have to be a carrier). And while the distance limitations and handoffs (Wi-Fi to 3G or to LTE) play a big role too those issues are being addressed (at least by Cisco). However, several reports, including Cisco’s own well regarded Visual Networking Index (VNI) for Global Mobile Data Traffic, show that mobile data usage over Wi-Fi is over 40% in 2013. In fact, it is projected that there will be more traffic offloaded from cellular networks onto Wi-Fi than remain on cellular networks by 2018 (that’s less than four years away).
This news is not entirely surprising as we mostly use our mobile devices at home, in the office, or at other locals that have Wi-Fi (hotels, airports, school campus, hot spots, etc.) If you think about the true power-users (high school, college, … you know, Millennials) then the use of “free access” and Wi-Fi make perfect sense. I know for a fact that my own son regularly has three screens going at any one moment (sometimes four) and yet he barely ever uses more than 10% of his data plan from our mobile provider (and we have the minimal usage plan).
Now the other point that Mr. Brown makes is that mobile network operators need to deploy a comprehensive IMS solution within their architecture, and again, Cisco has been a leader in this capability as well. I am happy to note that Cisco provides not only the industry leading unlicensed radio (Wi-Fi) solution architecture, but it should be noted that our Evolved Packet Core enables seamless call handling between unlicensed and licensed radio.
Interestingly, multiple mobile network operators around the world are actively implementing (or planning) VoWi-Fi offerings.
So yes, Apple (and others) are in position to lend strong credibility to VoLTE, but I think the more striking vote of confidence was the vote for Wi-Fi to be joining the big boys of Mobile Broadband.
What do you think about this trend? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @CiscoSPMobility.