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Three VoLTEs to victory as it jumps into UK 4G voice offering

Who’s laughing now, Vodafone? That 800MHz spectrum was worth it

By Simon Rockman, 15 Sep 2015

Mobe network Three is the first to offer UK 4G voice services, with the service going live Tuesday, taking advantage of the 800MHz spectrum which Three bought in the 2013 auction.

The “low” 800MHz frequency gives much better coverage than existing services through other frequencies. Three claims its customers "will be able to make calls, send texts and get online in places that previously had poor or no signal."

The company claims that it has 50 per cent of the population covered – outdoors, at least – and that this will rise to 65 per cent by the end of the year.

“By the end of the year, one million of our customers will have access to better indoor coverage and be able to use their phones in more places than ever before," said Bryn Jones, Three's chief technology officer. "We are proud to be the first network to roll this out across the country."

When the 4G standards were set the groups working on the technology forgot to include voice, arguing that it was “just another application”, and forgetting what phones were for, or that you need some standards for such an application if one person was to speak to another.

A working group to define Voice over LTE (Long Term Advanced – "VoLTE", or plain old "4G" to you and me) was convened.

This has slowed the availability of 4G voice dramatically and while a few networks around the world do offer it, moves to get it to market in the UK have been sluggish.

The primary advantages of VoLTE are that it’s more spectrum efficient: mobe operators can carry more calls with less infrastructure, but it also offers quicker call set-up and much lower latency.

Calling the new service “Super-Voice”, Three’s VoLTE rolls out in London, Edinburgh, Exeter and Birmingham with three quarters of those areas already covered. The deployment of VoLTE has been started in Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol.

Three says:

The combination of both lower and the higher frequency spectrum (1800MHz) which Three currently uses means customers will benefit from the advantages of each, meaning improved indoor coverage, less blackspots, and better call connections.

“Not being able to use your phone as and when you want, no matter where you are, is one of the biggest pain points for customers," said Danny Dixon, director of customer strategy. "This announcement is the latest step in our efforts to offer customers a quality experience on what is already the UK’s most reliable network."

Handsets which support VoLTE are slowly becoming available; the technology already works on the Galaxy 6 Plus, and new iPhones. Three estimates that more than one million of its customers will have a VoLTE-enabled handset by the end of 2015.

Vodafone is known to be in the late stages of testing VoLTE in several cities and will be more than a little irritated that it's been beaten to the punch.

We expect a Vodafone announcement in a couple of weeks. ®

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