August 26, 2014, 8:03 AM — High-definition voice calls are now available on all four major U.S. carriers after a nationwide launch by Verizon on Tuesday, though there's a long way to go before all those systems all work together and run over LTE.
Verizon Wireless subscribers with the right handsets will be able to start making high-definition voice and video calls over the carrier's LTE network in the next few weeks, kicking off a long-awaited transition that eventually will eliminate Verizon's traditional cellular technology.
VoLTE, or voice over LTE, will offer quicker call setup, make voice conversations sound better and let users jump into a video chat just by tapping a button on the screen, Verizon says. But those high-fidelity calls will drop if you leave the LTE coverage area, and last week Verizon wasn't ready to say which phones will be ready to use the service when it launches.
VoLTE turns phone calls into packets and sends them over the same network that carries data from apps and the Web. It's a more efficient way for mobile operators to deliver voice service and lets them devote more bandwidth to calls, allowing for higher quality sound: seven octaves, versus just four on circuit-switched 3G networks, according to Verizon.
In the demonstration last week, which Verizon said was over its commercial LTE network, VoLTE calls were distinctly clearer and the video calls had fairly good quality and video-to-voice synchronization.
With VoLTE on, subscribers will be able to make and receive VoLTE calls using regular phone numbers between any two Verizon phones that have the software activated. Part of the new technology is a presence feature that indicates on the contact list which people currently have VoLTE capability. A call with anyone else, or one that you start outside the LTE coverage area, will only have CDMA quality. And even though they're made up of data packets, the new HD voice and video calls won't work over Wi-Fi.
There's one shortcoming that could trip up Verizon VoLTE users: If a call starts on LTE and one participant goes out of the LTE coverage area into 3G-only territory, the call will drop and have to be restarted. At least one other carrier, T-Mobile, says it has solved that problem on its own network using a recent addition to the LTE standard.
Starting up Verizon's new service won't cost subscribers anything, but the packet-based voice calls will count against their minutes if they have time-limited plans, and the video part of the calls will count as data use. For a subscriber who finds they like upgrading voice calls to video chats, the extra bytes could add up.
"Video definitely is greedy," Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall said.