What’s next for voice? Get ready for VoNR

VoLTE may have only recently been launched in many countries but, already, some MNOs are looking ahead to the next generation – VoNR. What might that mean for the evolution of voice services? Where are we now, and where are we headed?

It seems like only yesterday since the transition to VoLTE began but, in reality, we’ve come a very long way in recent years. The latest market update from GSA (August 2019) reveals that 262 operators, across 120 countries have invested in VoLTE technologies, with the result that only a few gaps in coverage remain, as Figure 1 (GSA) reveals.

Countries with VoLTE

The report also notes that ViLTE is accelerating – but at a much slower pace. All of which is encouraging – VoLTE introduced a profound shift and was difficult to deploy but was the first native voice service for all IP-based mobile networks. Conversational video lags, but will likely catch up.

At Gintel, we spent a lot of time optimising the performance of high-value applications, so that they could simultaneously and seamlessly be delivered to mobile voice users across 2G, 3G, 4G and VoLTE networks, an important step to ensure consistent and predictable access to key services, such as voice.

However, there are challenges ahead. 2020 will bring 5G Standalone SA) architecture closer to reality, as 3GPP maintains its release schedule. Not only will this bring the first, fully-independent 5G networks closer, it will also lead to enhancements for Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and industrial IoT services.

All of which means that voice, which will become a critical service resource and enabler in service-oriented, API-driven 5G networks, is set to undergo yet another transformation. This topic was much debated at the recent 5G Core Summit in Madrid.

While there is some dispute between MNOs as to whether there is a need for a brand-new, dedicated voice service for 5G, it seems likely that advocates for this will win the argument. Voice is just too important to neglect by not enhancing to meet the performance requirements and opportunities afforded by full standalone 5G. So, this means that we can expect Voice over New Radio, or VoNR to become a reality. It may be some way off, but we need to start planning for this today.

Of course, device manufacturers are doubtless watching this space, but MNOs need to be paying attention too. They must be able to ensure service performance across all networks (where relevant) and to capitalise on the new role that voice can play in enabling new and innovative services.

We’re already working on this, investigating how classical voice can evolve from a core service to one that can, not only be delivered to all subscribers regardless of device, but which can also play a role as an enabler, on-demand to new services – both for eMBB, as well as for URLLC and mIOT applications.

Orchestrating these complex and highly-variable demands is going to be another challenge, but it is necessary. Voice may not attract all the attention, but it is a foundational service. Can you imagine a mobile network without a native voice service?

Neither can we – it’s mandatory, not only for basic human communication, but also for public safety, emergency services and, as looks increasingly likely, for a new class of blended services, such as Machine-to-Machine-to-Human, or for new low-latency applications that require voice and media processing interaction.

So, if you want to discuss evolution of your voice services to become a true enabler and a core asset for a host of new offers, get in touch with our team.

MNOs, VoLTE, 4G, 3G, 2G, 5G, VoNR, ViLTE, 3GPP

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