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VoLTE soon in UAE [Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)]
[August 26, 2014]

VoLTE soon in UAE [Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)]

(Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The UAE has long been setting the benchmarks for telecom and technological developments in the Middle East region.

The UAE has long been setting the benchmarks for telecom and technological developments in the Middle East region. So, it came as no surprise when, earlier in the month, mobile operator du announced its plans to launch the Voice over LTE (VoLTE) service for its customers. When launched, this will be the first live VoLTE service in the region. In fact, in the first week of August 2014, when du successfully completed the first VoLTE call on its network, it became the first operator in the Middle East region to install and test VoLTE on a live network.

LTE, or Long Term Evolution, is a technology used to access high speed Internet while on the go. Both du and etisalat have been offering LTE to their customers for some time now. The technology was first introduced in the country in 2011 by Etisalat, followed shortly by a launch from du as well. And since then, LTE has made a slow but steady growth in the nation.

As of December 2013, the LTE penetration in the UAE stood at six per cent, double than the three per cent penetration witnessed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and higher also than the GCC average of 4.5 per cent.

However, LTE still lacked the final push needed to popularise it amongst the masses. There were two broad reasons for this. The first was the lack of availability of LTE-compatible handsets. However, a slew of recent devices launches, from almost all major handset manufacturers, has more or less addressed this issue. Now there are enough LTE-enabled handset options available in the UAE market to cater to most requirements and budgets. This bodes very well for the future growth of LTE in the country.

Now on to the second reason for LTE's slow growth — this was to do with its capabilities over voice. LTE as a technology was great to use while accessing the Internet on mobile devices, but the quality of voice calls made while using an LTE connection was pretty low. Issues such as dropped calls, poor voice quality and the likes were a constant companion for an LTE user.

It is in this regard that the announcement of VoLTE launch in the country seems a significant step forward in removing the last big hurdle standing between LTE and its potential users.

VoLTE, as the name itself suggests is a way to make voice calls over LTE connections in a way that the call quality remains high. Here, the mobile network uses its data connection to make the voice calls, thus effectively making voice calls similar to using data on the phone. In the VoLTE world, there are no voice calls in the traditional sense of the word, as all activates — right from browsing the net, using apps or making voice calls — are treated as variations of using the mobile data connection.

This unlocks a host of possibilities. The use of VoLTE empowers users to experience high definition (HD) voice with an enhanced quality of service. HD voice allows better audio quality to be delivered, resulting in richer, warmer voices when connecting through LTE.

Further, VoLTE allows users to access a portfolio of new and richer multimedia services such as high speed video sharing, on the move video calling, multimedia chat and messaging, real time file transferring etc. Additionally, using VoLTE the call setup time — the time it takes to establish a call — is also reduced from about 4-5 seconds to just about 1-2 seconds.

In an age when the smartphones are getting bigger while their batteries are lasting much lesser – VoLTE emerges as nice solution as phones using this technology witness an improved battery life. Since voice calls in VoLTE are handled over LTE's data network itself, the phone does not need to engage with separate technologies for using voice and data services, thus resulting in a better battery performance.

However, VoLTE comes with its own set of challenges as well. For starters, the early adaptors might be faced with slightly expensive, albeit better quality, voice calling. This itself might deter some of the potential users to seriously take up VoLTE. The other is the lack of availability of handsets that support not just LTE but also VoLTE as well. Some of these reasons suggest that a full blown transition towards using VoLTE might still be a few years away.

However, as with most technologies, after a slow initial start, VoLTE too is expected to witness a steady rise in the coming years. Going forward, VoLTE is expected to become a main stay of the future mobile networks, and by most industry estimates, is expected to account for over 10 per cent of all LTE subscriptions globally by year end 2016.

Although, it would take a few years for the Middle East region to exhibit such high adoption figures for VoLTE, the very launch of the technology displays the level of maturity the regional telecom markets, with the UAE in particular, are displaying. The onus is now on the country's two mobile operators to price and market their VoLTE services in a way that the technology is able to create its maximum possible impact within the UAE.

The writer is a UAE-based strategy consultant specialising in the telecoms industry.

(c) 2014 Khaleej Times. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (

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