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Cross-Network VoLTE in the Works

can you hear me now

Only a few months after several of the main carriers launched their own VoLTE serviceĀ for making and receiving calls using 4G networks, AT&T is reportedly working towards VoLTE cross-network compatibility. Currently, users with 4G ready phones can only make VoLTE calls to others on the same network. If they can get the kinks worked out, then you might soon be able to make VoLTE calls to anyone on any network.

What is VoLTE?

VoLTE stands for “voice-over-LTE” (creative name, right?) and it does… well, exactly what it sounds like. With VoLTE, you can make voice calls using the 4G LTE data network instead of the slower 2G or 3G networks of yesterday. 4G calling is considerably faster and more efficient with higher audio quality.

Phones without VoLTE are unable to make voice calls using the LTE network. What that means is that if you are, say, browsing the web with your lightning-fast 4G LTE network and you suddenly get a phone call, your phone will drop the LTE and switch back to 2G or 3G depending on your service. You conduct the entire phone call on the older network and when you hang up, your phone registers that the call is idle and switches to 4G LTE again. The catch to this system is that when phones need to switch between 4G LTE and another, older network, there is often a wait time before the phone picks up the signal again. It isn’t a seamless switch just yet, but that all depends on your carrier and phone. It will undoubtedly be more noticeable for some carriers/phones than others.

The downside of VoLTE networks, of course, is that they aren’t always as widespread as the older, more established bandwidths. So if you are making a VoLTE call and you leave a 4G LTE coverage area, some networks (most notably Verizon) will drop the call because they aren’t capable of switching to 3G mid-call. Not all carriers do this, but it is definitely still a work in progress. Also, the wait time between switching from 4G and 3G can sometimes be frustrating. I mean, what’s the point of having a super fast network if you have to stand around and wait for your phone to find it?

Why Can’t I Make VoLTE Cross-Network Calls now?

Carriers that currently have their own VoLTE networks are AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. Sprint has mentioned that they are working on a VoLTE network, but I haven’t heard any information about when it will be available. So, of those three networks, currently you can only call in-network. So if your best buddy has T-Mobile and you have AT&T, then VoLTE simply isn’t an option.

However, each carrier approached VoLTE from a different angle, and they aren’t always compatible–different LTE networks use different speeds, which doesn’t work for VoLTE, where both parties must have the same network speed. Android Headlines also listed billing and routing issues as part of what is slowing down this cross-carrier call capability. However, it is definitely something they are all working on, and I expect it would be highly utilized once it launches.

So Why Even Bother With VoLTE?

Well, right now I feel like it’s mostly a novelty thing. And, while the call quality is definitely superior, VoLTE networks aren’t quite as expansive in some areas as they would need to be in order to support using VoLTE instead of 3G networks. Of course, like all new technology, it is far from perfect.

So what do you think? Do you prefer VoLTE?