AT&T is teetering off the 3G cliff – VoLTE is the parachute

As one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, and largest provider of mobile services in the US, AT&T’s strategies impact millions of users and generate billions of dollars. For almost 40 years AT&T has been at the forefront of telco technology, leading the way in bringing innovation to an industry that is constantly developing. Aiming to improve its network and update its infrastructure, […]

As one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, and largest provider of mobile services in the US, AT&T’s strategies impact millions of users and generate billions of dollars. For almost 40 years AT&T has been at the forefront of telco technology, leading the way in bringing innovation to an industry that is constantly developing. Aiming to improve its network and update its infrastructure, the telco giant is set to switch off its 3G network in February, 2022. What does this mean for the millions of customers who rely on this network to communicate with the world? How can telcos like AT&T deliver better service with increased reliability to their customers? Read on to learn more. 

The sunset of 3G

Citing its plan to improve its network and continue its investment in 5G, AT&T announced its plans to shut down its 3G network in February 2022. By its own estimates, this action will impact approximately 2.7% of AT&T’s customers. Is this significant? In a word, YES! According to a recent quarterly SEC filing, AT&T registered a total of 192 million customers on its mobile network, which include roughly 80 million post-paid customers and 18.7 million pre-paid customers. Altogether, AT&T counts around 2.7 million customers on the 3G network it plans to discontinue in just over 4 months. 

In practical terms, this means that 2.7 million people – professionals, students, mothers, sons, sisters and friends – will no longer have voice service or data for their devices. While some aspects of their phone may continue to work, their ability to communicate with their regular phone number will be non-existent. 

Since some of the subscribers are still having 3G-only phones AT&T have been offering replacements: new mobile phones completely free of charge. The operator clearly understands the impact of 2G and 3G shutdown on the market and their clients in particular. This is why they even decided to proactively send out new devices to their customers without waiting for them to apply for the new device that supports 4G LTE and HD voice.

The dawn of VoLTE

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is poised to eclipse Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) as the world’s communication tool of choice. This does not mean that VoIP will disappear from the landscape anytime soon, as its capacity to make voice calls, conduct conference calls, send instant messages, queue calls, play music for calls on hold and record calls makes it an incredibly useful tool for organizations across all sectors. 

The key advantage of VoIP, over traditional telephony, is that it uses the internet to transmit voice calls, so instead of using a phone, calls can be made from laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and even handsets fitted with converters. However, while VoIP was designed for 2G and 3G networks, VoLTE uses 4G LTE. Since increasing numbers of telecom providers (like AT&T) are switching to 4G (or even 5G) for faster and better connectivity, it is obvious that VoLTE will capture an ever-increasing share of the market. 

VoLTE – delivering advantages telcos can’t ignore

Telecommunication providers operate in a fiercely competitive market, so delivering enhanced customer experience is crucial. 4G LTE, compared to 3G, manages a broader bandwidth and can handle faster speeds, so the overall quality of voice calls is higher with VoLTE. But there are even more benefits for customers. As TechAdvisory points out, consumers who have VoLTE can place phone calls and run data apps at the same time, so while you talk with a colleague, you can simultaneously surf the web.  

Additionally, unlike VoIP, which sends data packets irrespective of the data contained within, VoLTE prioritizes voice data, meaning customers can rest easy knowing voice calls will never be compromised. 

Perhaps most importantly, VoLTE delivers financial value. Instead of charging voice calls per minute, VoLTE treats voice calls the same as any other data transmission. Furthermore, using VoLTE eliminates the need for phones to switch between different networks, which increases the battery life of a phone so users do not need to recharge as often.  

For telcos themselves, beyond attracting and building a loyal customer base, VoLTE also offers cleaner quality of calls. 

VoLTE – investing in networks and upgrading technology is key

Given the advantages VoLTE brings to the telco industry, it should be no surprise that its 2020 market value of USD 3.7 billion is expected to reach USD 133.57 billion by 2026, with a CAGR rate of 56.57%. However, there are still some challenges VoLTE implementation needs to overcome. 

The primary obstacle is related to networks. If there is no data connection or 4G or 5G coverage in an area, users will not be able to place calls or access the internet. Providing network coverage will require significant investment from both the public and private sector in network-wide IMS (IP Multimedia Core Network Subsystem). Despite the massive undertaking, this seems to be happening. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how important access to high-speed internet is, as billions of people across the world shifted to online school and remote work. Brookings reports that in the United States, recently enacted legislation allocated USD 20 billion for broadband expansion. This drive to bring reliable internet to rural and low-income areas is echoed by other government around the world. 

Additionally, VoLTE services and features (like HD quality) can only be enjoyed between VoLTE-enabled handsets, and since not all handsets are VoLTE-compliant, users will face limitations in enjoying VoLTE benefits based on certain devices. 

VoLTE enhances steering of roaming

The aforementioned issues, while obviously important, should not diminish the value of VoLTE. This is especially true as regards steering of roaming (SoR), an application that enables home network operators (HPMN) to manage and distribute visiting network (VPMN) traffic. There are currently many solutions that offer SoR strategies that help operators meet their business needs, and while VoLTE presents SoR benefits as well, it does much more. 

For operators, VoLTE supports migration to a packet switched (PS) domain by using IMS to provide voice and messaging services over LTE. By doing this, VoLTE facilitates the decommissioning of legacy CS networks since voice services can be migrated to newer LTE networks. Moreover, VoLTE enhances the quality of calls, with sound quality often exceeding that of communicators available on the market. It also reduces the time needed to establish calls and allows for multimedia communications like video calls – all features that attract customers to telco providers and build a loyal customer base.  

Depending on the retail offer each operator provides, VoLTE could be part of a DATA bundle, not a regular voice, day-to-day offer. This simplifies retail offers and ease of use; treating data as a single service means there is no fear of exceeding voice or SMS bundles. Additionally, it may bring effective cost reduction for end-users by moving from “per minute/SMS” charge, into “per data consumption” charge. Indeed, since 1 minute of VoLTE is ca. 300kb of data, taking into consideration current market pricing for data bundles, it makes voice/sms calls cost almost disappear. 

A similar story is told on the wholesale international roaming market – all operators heavily sending traffic, could optimize each and every minute cost, into “per 300kb” costs, which delivers 30-40 times cost difference. However, from a receiving operator’s perspective, VoLTE becomes a tool to gather traffic in their network, making local markets more competitive. VoLTE definitely By bringing as new tool into the wholesale market, VoLTE definitely  makes it’s a new, data-concentric impact. 

Turning to a trusted source in tumultuous times

As February 2022 fast approaches, AT&T will need to figure out a way to transition millions of its customers away from a soon-to-be obsolete network. This will be no small feat, to be sure, but the good news for AT&T (and other telecom providers) is that VoLTE offers solutions. The quality VoLTE delivers is unquestionable, and as 5G network technology continues to spread, VoLTE will become indispensable.  

Implementing VoLTE and other leading technology requires adopting a tailor-made strategy that reflects your present needs and long-term aspirations – that’s why telcos around the world turn to our experts. To learn how VoLTE can drive your growth, get in touch with Pawel Franasowicz, mobile/WhatsApp: +48503493639.

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